Staunton, October 15 – Nationalism is now at the center of Russian political discourse, that country’s leading specialist on ethnic conflicts says, and as a result, the core of Moscow’s political debate has shifted from one between liberals and derzhavniki to a very different one between left nationalists and right-of-center ones.
Emil Pain, specialist on ethnic political conflicts in the Russian Federation at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, told Radio Liberty’s Russian Service yesterday that in this new dialogue, both liberals and extremists of various kinds will be increasingly marginalized in Moscow’s debate (svoboda.org/content/article/25136435.html).
“Nationalism,” Pain argues, “is the number one Russian question” precisely because it defines the divisions within society. He notes that together with the Levada Center’s Lev Gudkov, he is working on a major study that shows that “the political development of Russia will take place within the framework of the nationalist paradigm.”
That trajectory “may be more xenophobic or less xenophobic, but it is completely certain to [him] that it will be something new, not the same in principle as during the era of perestroika when social protest took place in the name of the return to a single family of people and in the name of all-human values.”
“Today,” he suggests, “national egoism will be the central element of political struggle.”
Asked by RFE/RL’s Sergey Charney whether there can be “a positive nationalism” or whether “nationalism necessarily leads to fascism,” Pain replies that in the 19th century, liberalism had a nationalistic coloration. He notes that one Spanish revolutionary, Rafael del Riego wanted to get rid of Latin America in much the same way some Russians want to get rid of the North Caucasus.
Russian nationalists vary widely, he continues. Aleksey Navalny is “a national liberal” hose ideas center on modernization, anti-imperialism and the like. But “the majority” of Russian nationalists have an “archaic” kind, one based on “a strong hand.” They both use nationalistic rhetoric, but they do not seek the same things.
In Russia today, Pain says, what is taking place is “negative consolidation,” that is, “consolidation under the slogan ‘against.’” But what people are “against” varies widely too. Some are against the authorities; others against immigrants. Whether these will combine is far from clear.
“So-called civic nationalism,” which in the 19th century advanced the idea of popular sovereignty, is one possibility. Ethnic and religious forms are also possible. Russia is so varied that all are possible. But precisely because all are, it is not clear which ones will become dominant.
A month ago during the mayoralty elections, the theme of immigrants stood at the center of debate and was used by all political forces. As a result, “that which had been considered permissible only for the rhetoric of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration[DPNI] became the framework within which all political events in Russia in the near term will develop.”
And speaking of the Biryulevo events, Pain says that “perhaps the most essential formal distinction from previous misfortunes which in Russia are happening ever more often is that the participants of actions of violence were detained, put in buses, but then under the pressure of the crowd were released.”
That pattern makes it easier for people to go “’to the barricades’” and thus makes such events more likely to occur again.
Pain’s last point is certainly the focus of much extreme Russian nationalist commentary during the last 24 hours. Articles with titles like “We are in power here” have become typical and from the perspective of minorities and possibly the state itself extremely frightening (via-midgard.info/v-rossiyu-vozvrashhaetsya-yepoxa-narodnyx-buntov.htm and via-midgard.info/news/vlast-zdes-my.htm).
The real question is whether these newly self-empowered nationalists will turn their anger on the state itself. In a commentary on the Rex news agency site yesterday, Grigory Trofimchuk says that as long as the combat in the streets of Russian cities is between one group of poor people and another, the authorities “can sleep peacefully.”
But if one or another of these groups turn their fire as it were on the state, then, the commentator says, the authorities will face a real crisis, one that they will have to try to solve either by concessions or the use of force, either of which could trigger a bigger one (iarex.ru/articles/42162.html).