Paul A Goble
Russian President Vladimir Putindescribes the history of Ukraine as the result of the actions of outside powers, effectively negating the role of the Ukrainian people and even making them “disappear,” Dmitry Travin says. But if anyone wrote the history of Russia in the same way, stressing external links and ignoring the people, the Kremlin leader would be outraged.
The European University specialist says that he will leave to others a critical appraisal of Putin’s words about Ukraine but instead apply “the Putin method” on display in his article to a different task – in this case, to the history of Russian and the Russians.
If one does that, Travin says, one comes up with a national history that looks something like this:
“In contrast to other peoples, the Russian people was not able to create its own state. For that to happen, it has to invite in outsiders and allow them to restore order. The ancient Russian faiths were so primitive that one of these outsiders, Prince Vladimir, had to adopt the Greek Orthodox faith.
“But even the alien state and the great faith were not sufficient in order to withstand the attacks of the Mongols. Only by adopting the tyranny of the horde itself were the Moscow principles able to become strong enough that they could get involved in European politics. But these were only enough for victory over the Livonian order.
“Then the Russians again had to learn from more developed peoples. Out main teachers were the Swedes, as Peter the Great pointed out, From the Swedes, we took their experience in building an army and the bureaucratic system needed for the resolution of financial tasks. But even then Russians could not become good officers and bureaucrats.
“Therefore, Peter and then Catherine the Great began to actively appint to leading state and military posts Germans. And in the veins of our rulers, beginning with Catherine flowed mainly German blood. Only with the help of the Germans was Russia able to achieve success in state building. And at the same time, Italian architects build Russians their beautiful capital of St. Petersburg.
“The Russians were thus not able to generate their own enlightened ideas either for the state or for religion. Our free-thinking intellectuals owed everything to the French. But even with French ideas, they themselves were not able to carry out a revolution equal in importance to the French.
“The real Russian revolution was carried out by Jews with the help of a small number of Poles and Latvian soldiers. After that, the Georgian Stalin with the help of the Georgian Beria imposed order and won in a great war. But the Russians themselves were so weak that without Stalin, they fell victim to American temptations and lost a great country.
“Our eternal dependence on foreign values and our striving to borrow everything from abroad long ago angered Russian nationalists who laid at the foundation of their theory of the special path of Russia under the German concept of Sonderweg which was developed already in the 19th century [and not in Russia].
“A Russian can tell the whole world about having his own culture only by using foreign textbooks.”
Using Putin’s approach to Ukraine on Russia would yield something like that, Travin says, adding that “it is difficult to think of a more primitive treatment of the history of Russia, but it is one entirely based on the Putinist methodology of historical research, according to which anyone except the Ukrainians formed the nation in Ukraine.”
Some people really want to believe that Russians have no history of their own; but those who think that fail to understand that all nations at almost all times borrow heavily from others. That is the rule and not the exception; and it is as true for Russians as it is for Ukrainians or for Germans or for anyone else, Travin continues.“The modernization of any society is a constant act of cultural borrowing.” And those who think otherwise have fallen into the worst kind of primitivism, who foolishly think that their nation is somehow different from all those around it.