Russian nationalism and the fault lines of “united, indivisible Russia”

Russian propaganda is persistently trying to position Putin’s Russia as the legal successor to the Russian Empire and the USSR. According to the official doctrine, the sphere of influence of the Russian Federation includes any territories where Russian is spoken and conditional “Russians” live. The puppet Donbas “republics”, controlled and funded by Moscow, adopted the “Russian Donbass” doctrine in January of this year, which aims to create “Russian national states” in the occupied territory. Meanwhile, there is not even a hint in Russia itself that Russia or any constituent region is a “Russian national” subject.

There is not a single “national entity of the Russian people” on the territory of the Russian Federation, and attempts by representatives of the Russian movement to proclaim the “Stavropol Russian Republic” in 2013 ended in repression.

The First Congress of the “Slavs of the Stavropol Krai”, held in November 2013, had a wide response throughout Russia. The participants of the congress called the Stavropol region “the forefront of the invisible ethnic war, the war of Russians for survival”.

In fact, this congress marked not only the national lawlessness of Russians in Russia as a nation, but also the continuing centrifugal tendencies.

Just as the communists in the USSR tried to blur the national framework, creating a “new national community” – the “Soviet man”, today’s Putin’s Moscow is trying to erase the national characteristics of its peoples this way, forming them into loyal “Russians”. Despite the fact that the standard of living of Muscovites and “Russians” differs as Mercedes from Oka. Of course, this provokes a natural protest from the regions, which results in internal Russian separatism.

The most active in the manifestation of internal Russian separatism are constituent entities of the Federation with a strongly pronounced national and religious identity: the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, Yakutia…

However, Russian nationalism, which is gaining strength, poses an ever greater danger to the monolithic nature of the Russian Federation. Not in the imperial sense of the word, but in the regional one. Figuratively speaking, practically all the territories located outside the Moscow Ring Road want to reduce their dependence on the Kremlin to one degree or another and, accordingly, get more economic and political freedoms.

Historically, the ideologists of Russian regionalism (as it is customary in the Russian Federation to call manifestations of separatism) explain their claims to greater independence by the fact that once the Principality of Moscow, and then the Russian state, had colonized vast territories from the Volga to the Pacific Ocean. They were formally included in a single centralized state. However, a way of life different from Moscow was initially formed on these lands.

The Don, Ural, Siberian and other Cossacks, although they were Russian and Orthodox, considered themselves free people. It is suffice to recall the slogans of ancient times demonstrating independence from the metropolis: “There is no extradition from the Don”, “Taiga is the law, bear is the master”. Gradually assimilating with local tribes, Russian colonists formed a special subethnos. It was not easy for the Russian Empire to keep its outskirts in obedience. A huge number of “republics” arose on the ruins of the “prison of peoples” after the Bolshevik coup. The Soviet government managed to calm down the “quiet Don” with great difficulty and at great cost, to bring the “emperor of the taiga” into line…

The second “parade of sovereignties” happened after the collapse of the USSR. After Boris Yeltsin’s statement that the constituent entities of the Federation can take as much sovereignty as they can swallow, a significant part of Russian regions declared their distancing from Moscow. The national republics had proclaimed their sovereignty even earlier. The regional centers felt themselves offended and began to demand equal rights with the Russian autonomies. Centrifugal tendencies were suppressed with Putin’s coming to power, but not defeated, and they make themselves felt from time to time, sometimes very loudly.

Ural Republic

A local referendum for equal rights with the autonomous republics of the Russian Federation was held in the Sverdlovsk oblast in 1993, on the basis of which the regional council, headed by Eduard Rossel, proclaimed the Ural Republic. In September 1993, the heads of the Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Orenburg oblasts and the Perm Krai signed a declaration of intent to create the Great Ural Republic with the center in Sverdlovsk. Eduard Rossel hoped that his fellow countryman Boris Yeltsin would support this project. However, the first president of Russia, probably believing that a region with a predominantly Russian population could not be a republic, dissolved the Sverdlovsk Regional Council, dismissed Rossel and thus “buried” the Ural Republic. Both small and great…

Naturally, the ideas sown in the Ural in the early 90s have borne fruit. Ideologist of the Ural regionalism Eduard Rossel was elected governor in 2003 and almost immediately announced that the Ural Republic was legally extending its existence, since it was created within the framework of the then Constitution of the Russian Federation and it was impossible to liquidate it by presidential decree. The Ural Republican Movement non-governmental association registered in Yekaterinburg set its main goal to revive the Ural Republic on the basis of the Sverdlovsk oblast, and in the future – the Great Republic, including the regions adjacent to the oblast. The Ural regionalists intended to take part in the march for the federalization of Siberia, Ural, Kuban and the Kaliningrad oblast, planned for August 2014.

However, the Russian security services promptly reacted and strangled these marches at their birth. All subsequent attempts to promote the project of the Ural Republic, so to speak, “from below”, were also brutally suppressed: some activists were convicted under the article “extremism”, others were locked up in a psychiatric hospital.

The deputies of the Sverdlovsk Legislative Assembly discussed the issue of a possible return to the republican status of the oblast in 2016. “It is not forbidden for anyone to debate on this topic”, – the deputies did not dare to go further than this declaration…

“Other Russia”

A purely regional “nationalism” developed in a similar way in Siberia. So, during the late perestroika in 1990, the Party of Independence of Siberia (PIS) was registered in Tomsk by a group of writers and politicians. Its leader, deputy of the regional council B. Perov, drew up the “Declaration of Siberian Independence”, which provided for the deportation of all prisoners from the region, as well as “compensation for the damage caused by the empire to Siberians”.

At the beginning of 1993, the PIS ceased to exist, but the centrifugal tendencies continued. The popular at that time Sibirskaya Gazeta made its contribution to the process. It published articles on “the creation of a Siberian civil state on the basis of the Russian-Siberian nation”. At the same time, in the region appeared: the Siberia movement, the Siberian Independence Party, the Union for the Unification of Siberia and the Siberian Republican Party. The Liberation Army of Siberia was formed in 1998, renamed later to the Regional Alternative of Siberia.

So to speak, “partisan” illegal organizations, declaring the complete separation of Siberia from Russia, also appeared. Certain Alexander Budnikov announced the creation of the “Slavic Military Brotherhood”

. In 2007, a certain Alexander Budnikov announced the creation of the Slavic Military Brotherhood, which was later reformed into the Rus Genealogic community. The Siberian called for the “destruction of the occupier” and the creation of the “Siberian Republic”. “We advocate a confederation with Russia. In any case, it cannot be avoided. The question is how it will pass – with few loses or not”, – he told the reporters.

Budnikov also proclaimed a certain Siberian-Ukrainian movement, which clearly demonstrated the marginality of his teeming activity. The declared ideas of “restoring family ties between Siberians and Ukrainians” were not coordinated with the Ukrainian authorities in any way, and when the Russian separatist, after eight criminal cases brought against him in Russia, asked for political asylum in Ukraine, he was refused.

However, there were also more massive and more understandable regionalist movements in Siberia. Thus, during the period of the All-Russian Population Census, activists conducted an action on the Internet “Sign up as a Siberian”. “Friends! Siberians! According to the Constitution of Russia, the nationality of a citizen is determined not by a passport, not by a government order, but by a person’s self-identification. The 2010 census provides for the “Siberian” nationality. At the same time, Moscow officials and deputies are trying in every possible way to prevent our Siberian self-definition. A Siberian is not a place of residence and not a stamp in the passport. A Siberian is a state of mind. Say loudly that you are a SIBERIAN! Enter your name in the lists of Siberians and say what you think. Siberia is not a colony! As long as we are united – we are invincible!”, – such an appeal was contained on the website of the campaign.

It was Siberia in the summer of 2014 that became the main organizational force of a series of regional campaigns for federalization. “Our goal is to create a Siberian republic within the Russian Federation. Autonomy from Moscow will allow Siberians: to introduce benefits and additional allowances for people living in areas with harsh climatic conditions; introduce a regional component in the tax on extraction of minerals; exercise their constitutional right to their own authorities, more independent from the center, and eliminate the freak-out situation when all decisions are made in Moscow by the government, where there are no representatives capable and willing to stand up for the interests of the Siberian region”.

Many residents of Siberia liked such slogans of the campaign activists. But the Kremlin was alarmed beyond measure. All pages with information about the “March for the federalization of Siberia” were completely blocked on the Internet by a command from above. Roskomnadzor sent warnings to the Russian media demanding to remove the content and interviews with Novosibirsk artist Artyom Loskutov, in which it was reported about the preparation of the march.

It is revealing that Siberian separatism intensified after the Russian occupation of Crimea and the creation of the puppet “DNR” and “LNR” in eastern Ukraine. Official propaganda went out of its way to assure Russians that every region has the right to self-determination. As it turned out, this right only applies to foreign countries. The organizers of the “March for the federalization of Siberia” were even accused of speculating on associations with the “republics” of Donbas. “Of course, this is obvious. If we are offered such terminology as legitimate, we use it. Events in eastern Ukraine contribute to the fact that people in the regions of Russia are beginning to think about autonomy”, – the activists responded.

Ultimately, the leaders of the movement were dragged through interrogations, the Novosibirsk mayor’s office did not approve holding of the march on August 17, so instead of the march under the slogan “Stop feeding Moscow,” only single small protests were held.

The ease with which the central government stopped the Siberian march does not indicate the weakness of centrifugal tendencies, but the strength of the police car. The “DNR” militant, creator of the terrorist Vostok Battalion Alexander Khodakovsky, emphasizing the need for a strong repressive machine in Russia, retells his conversation with the region’s resident: “I recently asked a Siberian: if a mess starts in the country, and those wishing to knock off the power under any flags begin to gain the upper hand, will you immediately begin to secede from Russia? Most likely, yes – that was the answer”.

However, recent events in Khabarovsk have shown that even the toughest opposition is unable to stop regional separatism. Let us recall, on July 11, 2020, after the arrest of governor of the Khabarovsk Krai Sergei Furgal, accused of organizing the murders of businessmen, daily spontaneous protests began demanding the release of “a son of a bitch, but their own son of a bitch”. The Khabarovsk residents were supported by residents of a number of other cities in the Far East. These performances are considered the longest in the modern history of Russia in terms of mass and duration.

“It’s a delight, my friends…”

It may seem at first glance that if there is Russian nationalism in the south of Russia, it is only in the imperial sense of the word. After all, it is no coincidence that from the very first days of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, colorful guys in shaggy hats and with whips appeared in the Donbas. Allegedly, these are the Don and Kuban Cossacks who have been ardent supporters and defenders of the Russian World from the time of the “sovereign service”.

In fact, it is through this region that one of the deepest faults of the tectonic plate, called “united and indivisible Russia”, passes. The fact is that the “wrongdoers” living here did not consider themselves Russian historically, declaring their belonging to the Cossacks as a separate nation. Let us recall, for example, Sholokhov’s Piotr Melekhov, the brother of protagonist Grigoriy. “Stinking Russia should not rule over us”, – he expressed the attitude to the central government that had developed over the centuries.

The Soviet government carried out the so-called “deconstruction” of the Don and Kuban Cossacks in the 1920s by fire and sword, but during the years of Perestroika, in anticipation of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the idea of ​​reviving the Cossacks began to quickly gain popularity.

Several Cossack “state” entities were self-proclaimed in the fall of 1991: the Don, Tersk, Armavir and Upper Kuban “Cossack republics”. All of them were later united into the Union of Cossack Republics of the South of Russia (UCRSR) with the “capital” in Novocherkassk. The Cossacks demanded that they be granted the status of a union republic within the CIS. They even opened the “Ambassadorial stanitsa” in Moscow and appointed “the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the UCRSR”.

Russian journalist Konstantin Syomin spoke figuratively about how Soviet citizens became Cossacks: “A man was a policeman or a plumber yesterday, but today he has a whip behind his bootleg. And this transformation had nothing to do with the Cossacks of the past. It was more like a props theater… Nazism is hidden behind any manifestation and revival of the myth of the Cossacks as a nation. At first, they say that the Cossacks are a nation. Then it turns out that this nation is opposed to all the rest of the Russians, separatism is promoted”.

Having seen the writing on the wall from the South, the Kremlin has done everything possible to dampen the heat. The Decree of the President of the Russian Federation “On measures to implement the law of the Russian Federation “On the rehabilitation of repressed peoples “in relation to the Cossacks” was issued in 1992. A resolution, according to which “the revival of the traditional for Russia state service of the Cossacks is one of the elements of the formation of a new Russian statehood”, was adopted two years later. In other words, the Cossacks loyal to Moscow were accepted for the government service. The Main Directorate of the Cossack Troops was created under the President of the Russian Federation in 1995.

Legal Cossack associations were entered in the state register. However, not everyone agreed with this state of affairs. For example, a certain “Don Cossack Republic” (DСR) continued to assert the idea of maximum independence from Russia. The DСR program included the transformation of the Don territory into a democratic rule-of-law state with its own constitution, united with Russia. The prosecutor’s office of the Rostov oblast calls the activities of the “republic” propaganda of the idea of “creating an anti-constitutional territorial entity within the Russian Federation”. However, the separatist Cossacks did not intend to be content with just a “Quiet Flows The Don”. Ataman-president of the DCR Alexander Yudin called on his supporters to unite in a “powerful national fist” and, ultimately, create a security belt up to the Pacific Ocean in the form of the restored Cossack national-territorial formations.

But, as it turned out, the “Don Cossack Republic” was not the most radical movement in southern Russia. Statements about the formation of a certain “Don Insurgent Army” (DIA), advocating “the overthrow of the criminal system and the formation of an independent Don state free from Moscow”, appeared on the Internet. We will note in the name of fairness that the DIA did not go further than provocative statements.

Meanwhile, the official authorities do not hide the fact that Cossack regionalism in the South is gaining momentum and, quite possibly, dormant latent organizations in the event, for example, of a worsening socio-economic situation in the country, will be able not only to make a claim about themselves, but also to receive the support of population. It is revealing that the Russian propaganda places responsibility for these manifestations of separatism on… Ukraine. Allegedly, it is the Ukrainian special services that impose the idea that the Don and Kuban Cossacks are separate people. “Kyiv dreams that the Rostov oblast and the Krasnodar Krai will secede from Russia in the future in this way”, – a certain “expert” says. Allegedly, there are NATO member states behind Ukraine “supporting the development of the Cossack movement”, that try to support any national movements and forces against the Russians in order to weaken Russia. “Yarosh’s business card” has not yet been found in Rostov-on-Don has…

Russian Europe

However, regional movements in the northwest of the Russian Federation can be considered the most unusual manifestations of Russian anti-imperial nationalism. Thus, Russian patriots in the Kaliningrad oblast are actively and quite unitedly promoting the slogan “Kaliningrad is Konigsberg”. Regional forum of national unity “We are together!” was organized in 2017. It showed a map of the oblast made up of the flags of Germany and Poland. By the way, Crimea was marked on this map as the territory of Ukraine. Such visual agitation did not prevent Acting Governor Anton Alikhanov from taking part in this event.

Local businessmen consider it their patriotic duty to remind in the name of the company or in the advertisement of their services that the Kaliningrad oblast was East Prussia before 1945. Food and drinks produced in Kaliningrad revive the style of the past: Insterburg cognac, Neuhausen and Königsberg beer. Even the Kaiser daily bread refers the locals to the German past of the oblast. An increasingly popular trend is to duplicate the Russian street names with pre-war signs in German.

Local journalist Andrey Vypolzov, known for his ardent rejection of what is happening, notes that “the key theses are that the dissolution of Kaliningrad society in the German cultural code is becoming uncontrollable and close to the point of no return”.

At the same time, mental reformatting is already changing the self-identification of a significant part of the Kaliningrad youth. Local intellectual society imbibed these ideas with undisguised admiration. Ardently agreeing with “Germanization” (and these are officials, journalists, historians, museum workers and social activists of the Kaliningrad oblast) position themselves as living just in the “Russian Europe”, stating, for example, that “neither the Soviet Union, nor Russia created something except for a dull emptiness on the Kaliningrad land”. Russian political scientist Sergey Kurginyan states in this regard: “The line between “entering Europe” and “separatism” is blurred among the elite of the Kaliningrad oblast”.

In 2016, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu dismissed almost the entire top command of the Baltic Fleet in disgrace. It turns out that, according to the results of an inspection, the Baltic Fleet in the event of war could surrender Kaliningrad almost without a fight…

So, after all this, is there any prospect for the “Russian nation states” in the East of Ukraine?…

“Empires live as long as the ideas around which they arose are alive”. These words of writer Milan Kundera can be viewed as a diagnosis of modern Putin’s Russia. The idea of the “state-forming role” of the Russian people, “holding civilization together” is bulging at the seams in Russia itself. The purpose of this doctrine is becoming too obvious – an ideological shield for Moscow to siphon resources from the regions and create hotbeds of tension with its neighbors.

Volodymyr Pavlov, for OstroV

(c)OSTROV 2021

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