The Failure of the Liberal Nation: A Tale of the Russian 5th Column


March 7, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Valery Tishkov

The working group for preparing a draft bill defining the Russian nation has decided to rename the law “On the bases of state nationality policy.” The leader of the group, the academic Valery Tishkov, has quite openly and cynically explained this tactical ploy: “It’s more peaceful this way. It’s turned out that society is not very prepared to accept such a notion as a single nation unifying all nationalities.” 

To paraphrase Lenin, the liberals’ cavalry attack on nationality police has failed. The liberal lobby headed by Tishkov has switched over to the siege tactic. 

Let us explain the essence of this issue to our foreign reader.

Defining the Russian “nation”

In almost all foreign languages, the terms russkii and rossiiskii are the same: Russian. In the Polish language (and derivative Ukrainian), for example, Russians (russkie) are called Russians in the larger sense (in Russian rossiyane, in Polish rosjanie, in Ukrainian rosiyani). But in this case, what is at hand is an ethnic community, the Russian (russkii) people.

Scientists believe that the ethnonym rosiyane is derived from Greek which first appeared in Church correspondents between Greek bishops no earlier than the late 15th century. In Russian history, the term was introduced in the early 18th century by Emperor Peter the Great. Peter aspired to universalism, and his reforms were predicated on, among other things, creating a new Russian language and terminological apparatus. But rossiyane meant merely the Greek (Byzantine) translation of the ethnonym russkie and was not contradictory. With time, by no later than the second quarter of the 19th century, the term rossiyane was finally retired from civilian use. If it is used, then only as a kind of archaism.

In modern democratic and liberal Russia, the concept of the nation understood as a political (civil) community is supported on the state level. This approach was typical for the Russian Empire, where all subjects of the Russian Tsar were called russkie regardless of their ethnicity. The innovation of modern liberal ideologues in Russia is therefore something else: they have introduced the spirit of confrontation between the ethnic and the civic. They treat the Russian nation (rossiiskii) as a rejection of Russianness in the sense of russkii

The modern liberals act fully in accordance with the formula of CPSU General Secretary Brezhnev on a “new historical community – the Soviet people.” In other words, they are trying to dissolve Russians into the common civil rossiiskii (like the once “Soviet”) nation. 

This approach contradicts the ethnic understanding of the nation which is predominant in society despite all the efforts of authorities. In practical terms, the majority of Russian society consider themselves to be russkie, not rossiyane, just as the overwhelming majority of ethnic minorities identify themselves in ethnic categories. More specifically, ethnic self-identification is primary, while civic (rossiskii) is secondary for the majority of society.

Russian academia and the “nation” lobby

The author of these lines, a former professor at Rostov University, knows that in the very least other professors were encouraged by authorities to lower the methodological guidelines in order to support the idea of a Russian rossiiskii nation in any way among students and graduates. I remember one curious case when one of my colleagues ran out of the lecture hall in a frenzy after the entire group of master students, including her own, rejected this proposed construct. They subjected her to criticism which the university professor could not challenge. At the same time, the group was composed of people with different political views from left to ultra-right. 

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The higher the intellectual and educational level in social groups, the sharper the rejection of the Russian (rossiiskii) nation construct. But for what is it needed? What is the government so stubbornly striving to achieve with imposing such? 

Let’s begin with the fact that the chief ideologist of Russian nationalities policy is Valery Tishkov, a virtually open representative of the pro-American lobby. When in conversation with employees of his Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, my colleagues heard the fallowing frank recognition: our institute is working for the CIA.

Tishkov the intelligence gatherer 

Ten years ago in the summer of 2007, the Eurasian Youth Union issued a statement accusing Tishkov, the director of this academic institute and a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, of being a spy for the US. Tishkov was “under the guise of scientific activity engaged in intelligence gathering in the interests of the US.” In particular, the Eurasian youth Union said, this intelligence gathering for the US was being done by the whole network for ethnological conflict monitoring, EAWARN, headed by Tishkov.

Tishkov indignantly rejected this accusation and even threatened to sue representatives of the Eurasian Youth Union which, as far as I know, the organization actually hoped for after having prepared indicting materials against Tishkov. In the end, however, Tishkov did not follow through with his threat, and the charges of espionage voiced by the Eurasianists were not refuted.

In 2013, an employee of Tishkov’s network, Mikhail Savva, was arrested by Russia’s counter-intelligence service, the FSB. Though he was not charged with espionage, but accused of theft on a large scale, the investigation nevertheless lifted the entire shadow surrounding Tishkov’s EAWARN. Much became known about this network’s work, in particular that all of its materials are processed in Russia, but then sent to the US, thus giving the Americans full knowledge of what is going on in Russia’s regions. 

This is not being done by secret spies, but through the legal work of scholars from Russia. And this man has been entrusted with preparing the draft nationalities policy law…

The Fifth Column Fails Russia

In our opinion, the government in Russia is suicidally mistakenly trying to implement the concept of the Russian (rossiiskii) nation. The majority of society will never accept this imposed construct. The stronger it will be imposed, the stronger will be the resistance of society towards authorities. Already today, the majority of ideological Russian nationalists find themselves in opposition to President Putin, some even considering him to be an enemy of the Russian russkii people. The Russian nationalists for Putin (like the author of these lines) are in the minority. 

I was educated in Soviet times and  perfectly remember how, despite the comprehensive propaganda of Soviet nationalism, both I and all my friends always considered each other to be russkie not “Soviets.”  What can be said about the current situation with less effective propaganda and the Internet?

Unfortunately, the Russian state professes two deadly dangerous liberal dogma: (1) in the field of economics (the entire economic bloc of the government headed by Medvedev are liberals), and (2) in the sphere of nationalities policy. Putin’s Russia is making progress only where there is not liberal influence or where such is limited. For example, in the sphere of military construction or, to a lesser degree, in the field of foreign policy.

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For now, there has been no paradigm change or rejection of these ineffective liberal dogmas in the economy and nationality policies. These spheres continue to be guided by people and groups who are failing Russia. 

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