Friday, November 21, 2008

Gvosdev's Nationality Theses

I presented these thoughts at a roundtable yesterday at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies--on Russia's national identity in the 21st century. Submitted for your consideration.

1. Growing convergence between nation and citizenship. Twenty-three years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev's famous slip in Kiev, when he talked about "Russia" as the Soviet Union, implied Russians and Soviets were interchangeable. Solzhenitsyn's 1990 essay on rebuilding Russia went narrower--Russia was not the Soviet Union but it was more than the Russian Federation. Today, I think we are moving in the direction that a Russian is someone who carries the passport and citizenship of the Russian Federation. These are the people that Russia is seen as having an obligation to protect. Russian-speakers, people of Russian heritage, the Russian "diaspora"--they may form part of a community of culture with Russia, but unless they carry Russian passports, they are not Russian in the same way.

2. Emergence of post-Soviet "markers" for Russian identity. Aided tremendously by the enormous resurgence of the Russian-language media--films, internet, book publishing--creating a new post-Soviet Russian popular and elite culture. Emphasis on "cultural Orthodoxy" providing norms. Vladislav Surkov's attempts to define a "Russian political culture"--and the fact that his opponents also debate the same ground. Resumption of old imperial notion that to be Russian is to be part of the Russian state.

3. The wild card: Russia cannot fully define its national identity as long as Ukraine's remains undefined. 17 percent of people in Ukraine define themselves as Russian; 14 percent of those who define themselves as Ukrainian cite themselves as Russian-speakers. But is there a defined identity of "Russian-Ukraine"--where the Ukrainian state is the focal point of loyalty but the cultural identity is seen as Russian? In other words, could this 30 percent or so of Ukraine end up being like the Austrians vis-a-vis Germany? (Think what might have happened if Skoropadsky's Hetmanante of 1918 had lasted longer.) And in Russia itself, what would be the reaction? And over the next several decades, how will Ukrainization proceed, and will it begin to change these numbers--and again, what would be the reaction in Russia? Right now there is (reluctant) acceptance of the reality of a separate Ukrainian state but also the sense that there really isn't a major border that prevents and cuts off contact. That certainly changes if Ukraine gets in NATO.

The current financial crisis, of course, has ramifications for all of this. Much of Russia's cultural soft power--films, for instance, could wither away if the funds dry up. Also some of this has rested on Russia being attractively economically so that people have wanted to live and work there. If Russia goes down economically and (even if highly unlikely) the EU moved rapidly to integrate Ukraine, this would have a major impact, I think, on attitudes in Ukraine.

Fascinating and timely reflections. One might tentatively add the following:

4. Like Ukraine, the Russian Federation also has a minority question, with some twenty percent of its own citizens who do not belong to the majority (although many speak Russian). If current trends continue, the Muslim population will double from twelve to twenty-five percent in a generation. Relations with the ethnic Russian majority could deteriorate if religious nationalism grows stronger on both sides, or Russia could be a place where moderates set an example to Europe and the world of how the two groups can get along.

5. Regarding Ukraine, Nina Khrushcheva's article in the Fall 2008 World Policy Journal ends on a provocative note: if Ukraine emerges as an inclusive democratic alternative, it could appeal to Russians unhappy with the authoritarian model in their own country. But Ukraine has to stay together first.

6. The enduring question of Russia's external identity since the 19th century has been whether Russia's future is with the West or with a more isolationist Eurasian concept. The Eurasianists have had the upper hand of late but the debate is still far from resolved.

7. An even deeper question is Russia's relation to East Asia. Will Russia become an economic and possibly political satellite of China? Could Russia become another Australia, ie. a supplier of raw materials to Asia but with a diversified domestic economy and military ties to the outside world?
"could this 30 percent or so of Ukraine end up being like the Austrians vis-a-vis Germany?" - NG

Hardly. Ukraine has no history of its own, whereas Austria was the first german kingdom to try and unify Germany.

Austria can afford to be apart from Germany because it has a solid sense of nationhood itself.

But while Austria may be separated from Germany, among other reasons because it was politically and morally incorrect to maintain the anschluss after 1945, Ukraine has yet to justify its existence...
"Ukraine has yet to justify its existence..."

How do you justify other post-colonial states?
Another point raised in the discussion is the extent to which Russian identity can be separated from the state; e.g. for hundreds of years Russian-ness was defined in terms of service and loyalty to the tsar, rather than to a nation.
Mr Billington,

It depends. One can easily justify Lithuania's or Georgia's existence.

There is a historical precedent but also regional significance in that precedent.

But how can a state's citizenship be justified without a specific history?

Lets just look at north Africa for example and we quickly realise how easily Morocco and Tunisia fare as opposed to Algeria and Libya...
Another outcome for Ukraine would be to follow the Irish-model--where you cold have a Russian language culture that is also strongly opposed to Russia as a state and nation.

I agree that having a continuous history as a state makes national self-government today easier, but it shouldn't be necessary for a nation to have had a state for long intervals in order to qualify as a nation with a history.

In the Middle Ages, Lithuania was only a state for two centuries longer than the principality of Galicia-Volhynia. In the 19th century, the steppelands of Ukraine differed quite sharply from ethnic Russia in both language and land tenure, and a national culture took middle class form as it did in other countries. The western third of Ukraine under Austrian rule developed an even stronger sense of Ukrainian nationality.

The question in Ukraine is not whether the majority has a legitimate claim to national existence but whether the large Russian minority can identify with a Ukrainian state. As Nikolas points out, language policy in Ukraine may determine the answer.
I'm curious as to what convinces you to the thoughts in number 1. During my time in Moscow, I felt that officials considered non-Russian citizens, particularly those in the Baltics, as every bit as important as Russians themselves. (Every time I was at the MFA dealing with Estonia issues, I'd get handed a list of the human rights the Estonian government denies its Russian occupants.) In my experience, they also felt that way about the South Ossetians, Abkhaz, and Crimeans.

Additionally, there was in article in the NYTimes in January about the Russian state's desire to
“recuperate all of its patrimony in the world, above all churches.” It notes that Putin has donated $1 million to restoring a Russian Orthodox Church in France, and that there is tension with church groups abroad that do NOT want to come under the thumb of the Moscow hierarchy.

In the end, I still believe that the Russian government, and with less authority the people, still see themselves as an empire, or the legacy of one, rather than a nation-state, but I'd be very interested to know what says otherwise to you.
The Question of Ukraine is this: with Russia or against Russia?

I believe that Russia will go to war and occupy Ukraine to prevent her into being turned into a state oriented towards US-EU.

Between war and capitulation (of Russia) are many tactical choices for Russia - one of them is the Ukraine Liberation Army the aim of which would be to reclaim Ukraine for the Orthodoxy.

My suggestion to Americans is to let Russia be; you have neither the money, nor the influence, nor the people, nor the will to fight a war with Russia over Ukraine or any of the near-abroad areas of Russia. These areas are not germaine to US security and only a geopolitical juvenile will have wet-dreams about them.

Leave the sleepin dogs alone.
Mr. Billington,

"5. Regarding Ukraine, Nina Khrushcheva's article in the Fall 2008 World Policy Journal ends on a provocative note: if Ukraine emerges as an inclusive democratic alternative, it could appeal to Russians unhappy with the authoritarian model in their own country. But Ukraine has to stay together first."

That's not the only thing Ukraine must do to play that role. Even more important, there must be Ukrainians there. Ukraine's rate of population decline is about four times as great as Russia's much-commented-on demographic problem. Ms. Khrushcheva dosen't seem to have factored that little fact into her analysis, has she.

And really, there dosen't seem to be a solution under development. Given the fact that every time the sun sets there are ~1,000 fewer Ukrainians to see it than there were the time before, one would think that the President of Ukraine would be more focussed on Ukrainians dying now instead of a (very flexible) number of Ukrainians dead seventy five years.

But one would be wrong.
Interesting reference to Pavlo Skoropadsky, who favored a union between Russia and Ukraine. In point of fact, much of the Russian Civil War was fought on Ukrainian soil. Many Ukrainian born folks sided with either Skoropadsky, the Whites or Bolsheviks. Whatever their differences, these groups weren't against Russia and Ukraine remaining as one.

As for the reference to western Ukraine, the Galician Ukrainians at the time weren't fond of Simon Petlura, who was willing to cede Galicia to Ukraine in exchange for support from Pilsudski - in the creation of a pro-Polish/not so pro-Russian independent Ukrainian state. This plan flopped in part because it very much disagreed/disagrees with the overall Ukrainian consensus.

When Russian troops entered Hapsburg territory en route to putting down the Hungarian rebellion in the mid 1800s, the Ukrainians under Austrian rule warmly received the Russian military. This likely made the Hapsburgs uneasy. Shortly thereafter, the Hapsburgs began to promote the idea of a separate Ukrainian identity from Russia within the Russian Empire.

Don't get me wrong - a separate Ukrainian identity was in the works without Hapsburg or Bolshevik propping. Keep in mind that a May 2008 Gallup 2008 Poll on Ukrainian public opinion indicates that close ties with Russia remain relatively strong in Ukraine. Given the stances taken by Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, it's clear that most Ukrainians didn't find much fault with the Russian counterattack to the August 7 Georgian government strike on South Ossetia.

Nina Khrushcheva's referenced article notes the similarities between Russians and Ukrainians. Along with Belarus, Russia and Ukraine trace their identity back to the Rus era. In relation to her piece, it's more likely that Russia will influence Ukraine than the other way around. Putin is more popular in Ukraine than how Yushchenko is viewed in Russia. A recent poll found Ukrainians to generally have a positive view of Russia, whereas the reverse wasn't as true. Nevertheless, another poll found that among most Russian football (soccer) fans, Ukraine was their most popular team in the last World Cup (which Russia didn't qualify for).

On comparing Ireland and English dominated Britain to Russia and Ukraine, in some ways, I think that a better analogy might be to liken Scotland and English dominated Britain to Ukraine and Russia. Ireland-Britain to Poland-Russia impresses as a possibly better comparison (a main difference being that the Irish never came close to dominating the English unlike the Poles vis-a-vis Russia). Like Scotland, Ukraine has noticeable regional differences (the east-west divide in Ukraine and the highland-lowland one concerning Scotland). The views on Scottish independence between the likes of Niall Ferguson and Sean Connery seem a bit like the inner differences among Ukrainians.

Pardon what appears to be a long note for this tpe of venue. I'm very interested in this subject matter, which IMO is often lacking a thorough overview. Feel free to click my hyperlink and touch base with me.
Regarding my last note, let me stress that any Russian sympathy in western Ukraine (particularly in Galicia) seems to have noticeably changed after 1939, when the USSR seized that territory from Poland.

By and large, the west Ukrainians opposed Polish rule. On the other hand, they were to resent Soviet efforts at suppressing their Uniate faith. In earlier times, the Poles discouraged Orthodox Christian observance by coercing its Orthodox Christian subjects into following the Uniate denomination. In the USSR, the Russian Orthodox Church had to be subservient to the CPSU in order to exist. The Soviets no doubt viewed the Uniates as a Western influenced denomination. The rural Galicians tended to have non-Communist views in line with their Hapsburg and Polish upbringing. The manner of western Ukraine's turnover to Soviet rule had a back lashing effect. The Galician Ukrainians saw a USSR with Russian as the primary language and Russians in large numbers, with an existing (although marginalized) Russian Orthodox Church.
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