FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski

Post-Communist Nationalism

Courtesy Reuters

The time has come for the West to confront as a policy issue a problem that for years most Western scholars have tended to ignore and that all Western policymakers still consider to be taboo: the rising tide of nationalism in Eastern Europe and especially in the Soviet Union itself. This long-dormant issue is now becoming, in a dynamic and conflictual fashion, the central reality of the once seemingly homogeneous Soviet world. Indeed, whereas Marx once described the tsarist Russian empire as the prison of nations, and Stalin turned it into the graveyard of nations, under Gorbachev the Soviet empire is rapidly becoming the volcano of nations.

Until recently, the West preferred to downplay the reality of East European national aspirations and to downgrade the implications of non-Russian national awareness within the Soviet Union. Moreover, most Westerners perceived the Soviet Union as identical with Russia and assumed almost automatically that any Soviet citizen was a Russian. This has now changed. National conflicts have ruptured the illusion of communist brotherhood and the mirage of some sort of supra-ethnic Soviet nationhood. Henceforth, the ongoing crisis of communism within the once homogeneous Soviet bloc is likely to define itself through increased national assertiveness and even rising national turmoil. In fact, there is a high probability that the progressing self-emancipation of the East European nations and the growing sense of national distinctiveness among the non-Russian nations of the Soviet "Union" will soon make the existing Soviet bloc the arena for the globe's most acute national conflicts.

None of this should be construed as a lament for communism. Its fading is a liberation for those who have had to live under its stultifying and dehumanizing regime. Moreover, though it proclaimed itself to be a doctrine of internationalism, communism in fact intensified popular nationalist passions. It produced a political culture imbued with intolerance, self-righteousness, rejection of social compromise and a massive inclination toward self-glorifying oversimplification. On the level of belief, dogmatic communism thus fused with and even

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