Monday, March 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Rossiyane’ Strengthens Russian Nation; ‘Russia for the Russians’ Harms It, Goryanin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 18 – The use of the term “Rossiyane” for all the citizens of the Russian Federation will strengthen the Russian nation while paradoxically, historian and liberal nationalist Aleksandr Goryanin argues, the promotion of the slogan “Russia for the Russians” will harm the nation and quite possibly destroy the country.

            In an interview with Aleksey Polubota of “Svobodnaya pressa” that was posted online on Friday, Goryanin, who has sometimes described himself as “a paradoxical nationalist,” advances this and other arguments in support of his controversial contention that being a “liberal doesn’t mean [being] a Russophobe” as many Russian nationalists think (

            Faced with an influx of migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, many Russians are attracted to the slogan “Russia for the Russians,” Goryanin says, but most of them do not mean that the country should be “exclusively for the [ethnic] Russians” but rather that Russians should have greater control over their own situation.

            Obviously, he continues, this slogan “is capable of assembling not a few supporters including completely well-intentioned people, but it will not give rise to ‘an all-people movement,” at least of the kind some hope because “the overwhelming majority hear in these words a call for ethnic blood purges and mass expulsions” of a kind they do not want.

            What people should be saying, he suggests, is “Rossiya for the Rossiyane,” that is, Russia for its citizens. But unfortunately, many Russians don’t like the term “Rossiya” or even more the term “Rossiyane.”  They need to understand that the country has been called “Rossiya” for a long time and that “’Rossiyane’ is an old word,” dating at least to the mid-17th century.

                Ultimately if slowly, “the word ‘Rossiyane’ cannot fail to win because it unites all our citizens, Russians, Tatars, Komis, Kalmyks, Chechens, Chuvash, Sakha, Osetins, Karels, and so on, just as the word ‘Briton’ unites the English, the Scots, the Welsh,” and other groups in the British Isles.  The only thing needed for people to become accustomed to that is time.

            Many people who advance the slogan “Russia for the [Ethnic] Russians” want to restore the notorious fifth or nationality line in the passports, but they do not ask themselves “how this will help in the struggle with illegal migration?”  Such a move would do nothing in that regard, and that means no one should be taking it seriously.

            “The new Russia,” Goryanin says, “did not inherit one of the main causes” for the end of the USSR: “a lack of a common name for residents” of the entire country that everyone could use in daily speech.  “That may seem something petty, but it isn’t.”  And that is why it is so important that “Rossiyane” triumph.

            To promote that end, the historian continues, Russians need to understand that “the formation of [a non-ethnic] Russian civil nation will boost the Russian ethnos, while the slogan ‘Russian for the Russians’ will reduce it.”

            Those who say that the Russian government is intentionally working to diminish the status of Russians need to recognize that they are in error. “The authorities have made a number of mistakes” but those mistakes, almost all of which affect migration issues, can be corrected once the reasons behind them are understood.

            The race for profits and consequently for cheap labor, for example, has led many of those in or near the powers that be to press for immigration, failing to recognize that their own approach is self-defeating. They may make money in the short term, but they will fail to innovate and succeed over the longer haul.

            And those who fear that the Russian nation is about to disappear into a black hole need to recognize that the situation in that regard is getting better and that figures about crime, alcohol consumption, imprisonment, and abortions are all better at least relative to other countries than these measures were at the end of the Soviet period. That gives some ground for hope.

            Even those who understand these things often fall back on slogans like Dostoyevsky’s insistence that to be a Russian is to be Orthodox. That might have been true when the great writer said it but it isn’t today.  The world has changed, and Russia has changed as well, something that is less a matter for regret than many imagine.

            And there is another fear that Russians today have that needs to be addressed, Goryanin continues. Many feel that Russians attracted and absorbed others in the past but now is pushing them away.  There is some truth in that, but it is certainly not a black and white situation either in the past or now.

            “The flood of foreign gastarbeiters and even more of illegal migrants must be stopped,” the historian argues, “but [Russian] citizens have the right to settle anywhere in the country,” a distinction that some Russian nationalists don’t make but one that can help unite rather than divide the Russian Federation.

            Asked by his interviewer on the justice of the widespread assumption that “’liberal’ is a synonym for the word ‘Russophobe,’” Goryanin said that it is entirely possible to be a liberal and a nationalist and that he and those he worked with at the now-defunct website provide clear examples of that.

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