Monday, September 21, 2009

Russia still not reconciled to loss of Empire

The above article, entitled “Russia’s Trajectory Reflects ‘Shock of Loss’ of Stalinist empire, Moscow analyst Says,” was written by Paul Goble. I’ll quote from it and then comment below:

“. . . Vladimir Putin was wrong to say that ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe from Russia’s point of view was the collapse of the USSR,’ the Levada Center’s Aleksey Levinson argues. . . .:

“[The USSR] was a utopia realized as an empire . . .and an empire realized as a utopia.” [Many Russians feel a] sense of being ‘defenseless’ against the rest of the world. . . [This ‘Shock of Loss’] explains . . . their search for a new utopia . . . .”

“’The Gorbachevian elite . . . attempted to realize a utopia of openness, while the early Yeltsin one pursued one of encapsulation and paralysis.’ And that in turn opened the way to ‘the current form of utopia . . . [based upon] a neurotic-aggressive expression of resentment.’”

“ . . . Left in a position of one-on-one with the rest of the world, Russia is at the same time living through the phantom of the imagined reconstruction of the empire/utopia and the [simultaneous and very different but real] need to become a national state . . .”

“. . . Russia is painfully losing the imperial resource but surprisingly acquiring a national, national-confessional and ethnic resource,’ a development that is promoting ‘a phenomenon never before seen in the history of Russia – the symbolic unity of the ruling elite and the public.’

“One example of this . . . is the almost universal approval among Russians of military actions against Georgia last year, a level of support they did not manifest for Moscow’s earlier campaigns in Afghanistan and Chechnya, when many parents did not want to send their sons to fight.

“Another reflection of this ‘consolidation’ of the nation . . . is the nature of the support for Putin. . . the figure of the president symbolizes this new (pseudo-imperial and really national-ethnic) unity . . .”

“As the old system collapsed, the ruling elite first sought to employ “universalist (‘all-human’ and ‘democratic’) values,” but these turned out not to be much in demand. And consequently, as the process of devolution proceeded, elites turned ever more to “particularistic and pseudo-universalistic ideological values,” which have proved more popular.”

“. . . All this would seem to “promise this regime long years of a peaceful life,” but “Russia, entering into the phase of transforming itself into ‘a national state’ faces . . . a demographic crisis . . . ‘the logic of the construction [by ethnic Russians] of relations with various ‘others’ whose national and ethnic flowering has been delayed . . . [is] contradictory.”

“As other nations have felt in the past, Russians now have a sense of being ‘a “disappearing people,”’ one whose existence is threatened by demographic decline and by the demographic rise of people who often are viewed as fundamentally different [from] and hostile to the Russian nation.

“. . . ‘one cannot exclude [the possibility] that the demographic crisis, the fear of losing control over too broad a territory . . . will generate another . . . military [action] . . . .”

“At the very least . . . the projection of this line in the next decade promises the gradual loss [Russia’s place] in that part of the world dominated by the West.”

“Given that this is the likely trajectory of Russia’s development, ‘the most acceptable policy’ for the West . . . will be [the] marginalization of . . . contemporary Russia … [especially since Russia has nothing to] offer [the] West besides raw materials and arms (for [the West’s] enemies).”

[All this] suggests, given “the logic of the international situation,” that Russia should “reorient” itself toward China. [However] an equal partnership is not possible [and] anything less is something Russian society . . . won’t accept, leaving post-imperial but not yet national Russia in an increasingly difficult position.”


I am not persuaded by Levinson’s “logic.” Why should Russia need to “reorient itself toward China.” The “Logic” that presents itself to me is the precedent of the British and Japanese Empires. Britain and Japan both lost their empires after World War II. Did they assume that the loss of status associated with loss of Empire was unacceptable. No, we know they did not. They were practical. They moved on and advanced their “Nations” quite far. They are both major economic powers in the world today.

Why is it that Britain and Japan had the ability to accept their new status but Russia does not? Does Russian hubris so overwhelm them that they would rather see Russia destroyed? One is reminded of Hitler’s desire to see Germany destroyed in the final days of World War II.

I can feel Russians bristle as they read this. They will think, “how dare you speak of Russia in this way? Didn’t we create Sputnik? Didn’t we create Atomic Weapons?” Sure, I will answer, but that was in the past . Let me see you do something now. How pathetic you are if all that can be said about your future is that you will continue to sell raw materials to the West and Weapons to the West’s enemies.

Why is it that Britain and Japan could survive their loss of Empire but you cannot? Are you less than they? I am not intending an insult here. I would much prefer that Russia would recover from their malaise and ascend to the forefront of successful nations, but what I read nowadays inspires pessimism in that regard.

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