Imaging, promoting, and fighting Empire

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Andriy Portnov

Imaging, promoting, and fighting Empire in post-Sovier Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Abstract)

The Soviet Union was a very special type of Empire. And the situation of Russians within the Soviet Union was very special too. On the one hand, we could easily find, especially in post-war period, the notion of the Russians as “the elder brother” and we could easily see the various elements of Russification politics in the Soviet republics (although Soviet nationality policies should never be reduced just to Russification). On the other hand, Russians in the Soviet Union were a kind of imperial nation without its own national flat. Russian Soviet Socialist Republic was not a national republic of the Russians and there was no Russian Communist party or Russian Academy of Sciences. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a very tramautic experience for the Russians despite the fact that is was initiated in Moscow.

Post-Soviet Russia has faced a dramatic problem with the legitimization of its borders as natural and historically fair and, even more, with the acceptance of the sovereignity of the former Soviet republics (until now especially Ukraine and Belarus are widely seen in Russia as a “closest abroad”). At the same time, the threat of the break-up of the Russian Federation has served as the main explanation and justification for the authoritarian political evolution of the country.

Unconditional choice in favour of the military myth of the Great Victory, myth of the strong state and national unity in the fae of the external enemy was finally taken in 2005, at the 60th anniversary of Victory. Sometimes this interpretative scheme (“the victors who has nothing to apologize for”) is decribed as defensive, as a forced reply to the nationalistic falsifications of war in post-Soviet states. Even the presidential commission on the falsification of history has been created. The Comission was designed to deal with the falsifications of Russian history outside Russia but has not shown any visible activity until now.

Among the important elements of Russian politics of history are:

– the leading role of the state. The state and the supreme powers are located in the centre of the narration, and people are supposed to delegate them willingly their right of historical choice and initiative

– Service to the state is more important than the ideological discords. In this logic there is no principal difference between Stalin and Stolypin – both were “effective managers”.

– Selective identification with the Soviet. Official Russia totally identify itself with the heroic events (Our Victory) and at the same time dissociate itself with the crimes of the Soviet regimes and tend to portray the Russians as the main victim in reply, for instance, to Ukrainian claims that the Great Famine was a genocide against Ukrainians.

– The successful existence of the export (for the West) and internal versions of memory. Russia has designed different strategies of presenting itself for Western Europe, on the one hand, and for Eastern Europe and domestic population, on the other.

In my presentation I will focus on the usages of the notion of Empire (the Russian and the Soviet) in contemporary Russia as well as Ukraine and Belarus, the countries and people quite often described (and sometimes also self-described) as the parts of the Russian world (Russkii mir). It seems to me that Russia`s  identity and politics of history still has a plenty of imperial and neoimperial elements. I agree with Dmitriy Furman, that the next attempt of democratic modernization in Russia could provoke the separatist movements of non-Russian nationalities and Russian national consciusness could face the dilemma: to see them as a irreperable loss or as a real acquisition, “acquisition of the national state”. The last option would be possible only with the sincere recognition of the historical, cultural and political subjectivity of its closest neigbors, and, first of all, Ukraine.

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