Russia faces the urgent task of developing a civic nation, but the country has virtually no experience of any intellectual discourse on the nation, if by discourse we mean a space for the formation of meaning, rather than the collected works of the various government officials responsible for the ‘national question’.
The Nation as a Political Frame
What are the challenges and dangers facing Russia’s nation-building project? The first is the predominance of an ethnic interpretation of the nation among society at large, which sees processes of assimilation as abnormal and dangerous, while regarding territory as ‘national’ — and thus ethnic — property. This interpretation has deep roots in the Soviet past. The second is an attempt ‘not to notice’ that the civic nation (Russianness in the sense of rossiiskii) is to a very great extent based on the ethnic nation (Russianness in the sense of russkii). The flip side of this is the dangerous notion that the civic nation might be entirely coincident with the ethnic nation, and thus that rossiiskii may include nothing more than russkii.
What is Russia? Who are the Russian People?
In today’s circumstances, the name given to Russia’s civic nation — understood as the historical and sociocultural aggregation of the country’s residents — is important. It is important that this aggregation be recognized as underpinning and legitimizing the nation-state, alongside all of the other states of the world. Several leading experts, political scientists and politicians believe that the state should be built upon a ‘Russian project’ (in the sense of russkii), and the nation, in turn, be called russkii. Thus, we are essentially witnessing the resurrection of the Russia that was almost built but in the end was interrupted by the revolution of 1917. The author believes that such a return to the past is impossible.
Russia Between Empire and Nation
The demand for a civic nation (a real nation, built on popular sovereignty) is so far insubstantial. It is of no use to the etatists who defend the empire, nor is it needed by the separatists who seek selfsufficient,ethnocratic states. It doesn’t fit into the doctrine of ‘sovereign democracy’, nor does it serve the tactics of the liberal opposition (at least, they seem to see little use in it). However, the growing threat of fascism makes the formation of a civic nation one of the most pressing challenges of the day, a fact that will likely stimulate various political forces to give the issue active and thorough consideration.
Constructing Identity: Opportunities and Limits
The ability to ingrain a ‘correct point of view’ by using the resources of the state should not be exaggerated: political prohibitions give rise to ambivalence, while the ‘official point of view’ is often greeted with mistrust. However, the possibilities for reaching consensus in ‘alternative’ public spheres are also not great, not only because of the limitations of available channels of communication, but also because of the way such communication is conducted. ‘Debates on the nation’ are held not as a dialogue, but as a competition for a monopoly on influence. Proponents of one point of view attempt to prove that they are correct, giving little heed to the need to reach consensus with their opponents. It is unsurprising that the main tactic employed all along the political spectrum is exclusion. Thus, the fragmentation of the public is determined not only by limited access to means of mass communication, but also by the dominant discursive strategies.
The Nation: A Crisis of Construction and Understanding
Attempts to understand the problems surrounding the nation are made more difficult by the simultaneous use of the word as a synonym for the state, the people, the republic, society and the public, as well as for all of the ethnic aggregations (clan, tribe, race). It would be better to abandon the term altogether in political discourse, along with all terms descended from it. It is too repressive, forcing on society and the individual specific practices, the effectiveness and benefit of which are doubtful (or even negative). Political theory in general, and normative political theory in particular, would stand only to gain if theorists were to forsake endless definitions and redefinitions of the nation and attempt to avoid the concept altogether.
The Illusion of Modernization: The Russian Bureaucracy as the ‘Elite’
Lev Gudkov, Boris Dubin
Sociological studies of the Russian elite, understood as potentially influential social groups, have shown that the elite do not want change, do not see the value of change, but rather prize the status quo of the current regime and so will resist any efforts to alter the current state of affairs. The majority of respondents are not inclined to ‘force’ processes of modernization, as a result of which necessary reforms are delayed indefinitely or until ‘more suitable’ times. Thus, the issue of the country’s modernization loses its currency and meaning, its reality and rationality. The most likely scenario for the near future is the maintenance of the hierarchical social order, leaving Russia unable to shift its political paradigm and doomed to stagnation and slow degradation.
Why the World Isn't Flat
The champions of globalization are describing a world that doesn’t exist. It’s a fine strategy to sell books and even describe a potential environment that may someday exist. Because such episodes of mass delusion tend to be relatively short-lived even when they do achieve broad currency, one might simply be tempted to wait this one out as well. But the stakes are far too high for that. Governments that buy into the flat world are likely to pay too much attention to the “golden straitjacket” that Friedman emphasized in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which is supposed to ensure that economics matters more and more and politics less and less. Buying into this version of an integrated world — or worse, using it as a basis for policymaking — is not only unproductive. It is dangerous.