Courtesy Reuters

Russian Nationalism

A Time of Troubles Fuels the Right

ONCE AGAIN RUSSIA is entering a smuta, a time of troubles, the outcome of which cannot be predicted. Only one thing is certain: the reappearance of a nationalist movement, one firmly believing that Russia’s rightful role as a great power can only be saved by a strong authoritarian government. For many years students of Russia focused on the left; having been decisively defeated in 1917, the right no longer counted politically, and ideologically it had nothing of interest to offer. Yet today the whole spectrum of Russian politics has moved to the right and become more nationalist.

This trend is a reaction to the breakup of the Soviet Union and is bound to continue. Much nationalist sentiment could be contained or assuaged if moderation and common sense prevailed. But those attributes are always in short supply in times of crisis. Millions of Russians still reside in the former republics of the empire, and separatist groups inside Russia itself insist on autonomy and even full independence. Allowed free rein such pressures threaten the survival of the Russian republic.

Given the strongly nationalist moods that also prevail among the non-Russian republics and ethnic groups, the stage is set for collision. The age of aggressive nationalism and nationalist conflict that ended in western Europe, by and large, in 1945 has returned with a vengeance in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Thus present conditions in Russia are not conducive to consolidating democratic ideas and institutions. Nationalist forces, some of the extreme right, others moderate, have a reasonable chance in the struggle for Russia’s soul and political future, at least in the short run.

Competing Ideas of Nationalism

FOR ALL ITS NUANCES and tendencies the supreme moral authority of Russian nationalism is academician Dmitri Likhachev, the grand old man of Russian historiography and letters. Neither a politician nor head of any party, he stands to many Russians, except those of the extreme right, as the conscience of

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