Guide On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union

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Articles

  1. The Formation of the Soviet Union
  2. ON RUINS OF EMPIRE: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union
  3. Submission » DergiPark
  4. The modern nature of nationalism

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The Formation of the Soviet Union

Condition Brand New. Description This study analyzes the ethnopolitical situation in Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, particularly the southern tier states. This study, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science, analyzes the ethnopolitical situation in Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, particularly the southern tier states.

Respected Russian scholar Georgiy Mirsky provides an insider's look at the historical nature of the Russian and Soviet empires, the development of ethnic and nationalistic identities within those empires, and the present-day situation with regard to hot and cold ethnic conflicts within and around Russia. This important work should be of interest to scholars and policymakers in comparative politics, international relations, and Russian and Slavic studies. Because of the diversity of the conditions, it is manifested in many different forms which makes it difficult to draw clear distinctions between them.

Nevertheless, to the extent possible, the following analysis will concentrate on three broad - and sometimes overlapping - contemporary varieties, namely, state nationalism, ethno-nationalism and, finally, what we call "protest" nationalism, encompassing both right-wing nationalist movements in Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism. Given the background of the preceding section, which has sought to establish the relationship between certain key concepts, we will try to show that in each case nationalism is a reaction to something which is directly or indirectly related to the policy or the performance of the state.

In a practice widely resorted to by governments, state nationalism embraces the nation as a whole, thus transcending ethnic distinctions. It is the creation of mass public sentiment in favor of the state and is used by the latter to mobilize popular support for its policies most prominently in wartime or to reaffirm its legitimacy. State nationalism can be expressed in a multitude of ways. Most prominently, it is an instrument wielded in the process of nation state building where the state is created and sustained around the concept and the glorification of the nation e.

It can also allude to state manipulation of nationalist ideology to promote unity against external opposition e. Externally, it can refer to policies aimed at extending the territory of the state into areas which the state claims as belonging to its nation e.

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Internally, one could describe as nationalist actions taken by the state against specific groups or individuals amounting to a denial of cultural pluralism and justified on grounds of the anti- or un-national "unpatriotic" character of those groups or individuals e. Although no common definition of ethnicity exists, it is generally described as the awareness on the part of a particular community of having a separate identity on the basis of common history, race, language, religion, culture and territory.

ON RUINS OF EMPIRE: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union

Where that community constitutes a minority, which is often the case, ethnicity is also used synonymously with minority or identity groups, which is sometimes also loosely extended to migrant or refugee communities. Most ethnic groups are oriented towards recognition and expression of their cultural identity and the protection of their rights as a group to share in the benefits of the state in which they live. An increasing number, however, are seeking various forms of political recognition or autonomy.

Irrespective of the regions involved, the complaints appear to be the same: each group feels it is being denied some of the economic, political, social and cultural rights and opportunities available to other populations in a given state. Broadly speaking, therefore, ethnicity becomes a form of nationalism when it assumes a political and often territorial dimension that challenges the status quo, and, in some cases, the legitimacy and stability of the state in question by becoming a catalyst for intra- or inter-state conflict.

Some would argue that the most dynamic ingredient of nationalism is ethnicity; indeed, that nationalism is in essence the political expression of ethnicity. It is clear that ethnic divisions have existed since time immemorial. Conflicts or tensions have been present even when apparently latent and grievances nursed for generations. What concerns us here are the factors which have given rise to contemporary ethno-nationalism, some of which are enumerated below.

At the national level, the resurgence of ethno-nationalism can be sought in the failure or inability of the modern nation state to serve the national community and to meet the needs of its minority populations in terms of an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. Economic deprivation and disparity, as witnessed in numerous cases, has often acted as a powerful catalyst igniting the flame of nationalist revolt and in crystallizing a sense of ethnic identity.

Not only does the denial of cultural and political rights and the lack of active power-sharing for minority groups through constitutional arrangements fail to close the poverty gap, but this failure combines, in some cases, with frustration over the slow development of democratic forms of government - a combination that helps to explain some of the political bases for ethnic resurgence.

Furthermore, the tendency of the modern nation state to resort to political discrimination, repressive action e. Such actions invariably result in strengthening aspirations for separate ethno-national identity. A related consequence of state policies also resulting in ethno-nationalism happens when migrant communities fleeing ethnic, political and economic victimization settle in the more industrialized societies and create new hybrid cultural identities distinct from the society in which they have settled.

Submission » DergiPark

The growing hostility to their presence frequently expressed through racist rejection is leading these groups to declare their specificity and to rally around different forms of cultural or political expression. Though most Muslims in Western Europe numbering over 8 million say they want to integrate, it can be argued that it is the enmity and coldness of the native European populations which push them to assert their identity through religious and cultural differences.

In Central and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the principal stimulus for ethnic revival springs from the multinational and multiethnic composition of most of the societies in the region. Such reactions have invariably sprung from or led to repressive government policies, thereby periodically creating serious tensions between the states or communities concerned.

Ethnicity and Nationalism

In addition, almost all the countries harbor revisionist claims against one another. However, although such tensions have occasionally strained inter-state relations since World War II, they have never jeopardized national and regional stability to the extent witnessed since the collapse of the socialist state system, the war in Bosnia being its most tragic illustration. The situation in the former Soviet Union is analogous, demonstrated most dramatically by the liberation struggle of the Chechen people and the inter-ethnic conflicts within the Transcausian republics.

Several reasons are ascribed to this development, some of which are outlined below. The "deep freeze" effect: namely, that the totalitarian regimes were not successful in quelling ethnic passions; they were merely kept frozen only to resurface when authoritarian structures which imposed an artificial homogeneity disintegrated. Others claim that it is the disintegration of central power and not the strength of national feeling that has forced certain republics, such as Khazakstan and Macedonia which did not previously dream of separation, to assert their independence as a means of self-preservation Hobsbawm, Or, stated differently, nationalism, in this case, becomes a means of filling the political void left by the rapid breakdown of central political authority, or of retrospectively celebrating new-found statehood.

A related argument is that nationalism is a reaction to communist ideology's denial of national identity based on its promotion of the all-embracing concept of 'homo-Sovieticus' which sought to foster the illusion of homogeneity. The seeming inability of the nation state to satisfy the demands of ethno-cultural minorities and the lack of an accepted international premise for the recognition of self determination as in the case of Chechenya no doubt constitute additional reasons for the eruption of ethnic tensions in the region.

Not unlike ethno-nationalism, the phenomenon of what we call protest nationalism can broadly be explained as a response to perceived social, political, cultural or economic insecurity brought about or subsequently exploited, directly or indirectly, by state policy. According to conventional wisdom, wealth, individual freedoms and political maturity should have inoculated Europe against xenophobic and parochial forms of nationalism and ushered in a heightened sense of tolerance and acceptance of the "other.

Yet, as recent European history has shown, xenophobic nationalism, embodying characteristics of neo-fascist ideology, can also emerge among groups within so-called advanced societies. These reactions have tended to flourish within a more general context of socio-economic decline and political change. The ensuing insecurities have found their principal target in the settled or newly arriving immigrant communities. As many analysts have pointed out, at a time of economic stress, all 'foreign' elements and new arrivals are bound to be resented - even ethnic Germans from ex-GDR wishing to settle in Germany.

These phenomena explain in part the popular appeal of right-wing parties and groups in Western Europe 12 which seek to defend so-called national and cultural identity and norms on the basis of reactionary, authoritarian and racist slogans advocating for the most part the severe restriction of immigration and asylum policies. The phenomenon or, as some put it, the traumatism, of immigration has been used as a convenient target for public discontent and has become a politically important and sensitive issue.

Some also explain the popular successes of these groups or parties in terms of the reaction to the political disorientation arising from the rapid collapse of the communist menace and the accompanying psychological need to transfer the "enemy" image to new sources of threat. As has traditionally been the case in history, most notably with the Jews, in times of economic crisis and social instability, ethno-nationalistic sentiments offer groups an opportunity to put the blame on others outside their own community.

A further attraction of these right-wing parties appears to lie in their promise to eliminate corruption, misery and unemployment and their ability to exploit people's aspiration for a better life. Sadly, they speak for those Europeans who have lost faith in more moderate or mainstream political parties, 13 who are disoriented by post-communist upheavals and who fear interlopers from other countries and other cultures.

The real threat of these parties is not that they will take over power in Europe. Their pernicious impact lies in the fact that they are forcing the center-right parties to shift further to the right, threatening, in some cases, to undermine the very foundations of democracy. In France, for instance, the ruling conservatives have stolen the far-right's thunder by tightening French citizenship laws and officially calling for "zero immigration," leading to the observation that the moderate right is simply trying to "outflank the National Front by being even tougher on immigrants" The Economist, 27 April , p.

The German government has similarly restricted the country's asylum policies, a step that can hardly be unrelated to mounting xenophobic sentiment expressed not only by fringe groups, but also by far-right parties. In Britain, asylum and immigration policies have been tightened to a point where state policies are considered by some to seriously breach liberal values and to "betoken a dangerous defensiveness" The Economist, 4 May , p.


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The phenomenon of right-wing resurgence is not confined to Western Europe. Extremist groups and parties have also sprung up in the former Soviet block.


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  • About 80 ultra-nationalist groups are said to be currently active in the Russian Federation. One of the most prominent social manifestations of this trend is Pamyat, the xenophobic chauvinist Slavic movement founded in which extols Russia's imperial past, advocates submission to the authority of the Russian Orthodox church and whips up discontent and support by targeting ethnic minorities as scapegoats for Russia's troubles.

    A more prominent manifestation of right-wing populism in Russia is the misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party. Led by the now well-known Vladimir Zhirinovsky, it is said to get its support from the most alienated segments of society, such as blue collar workers hit hard by food shortages and inflation, army officers bitter about the country's fall from superpower status and its seemingly inescapable dependence on the West for economic revival, and young voters disappointed with the Yeltsin experiment.

    The modern nature of nationalism

    Some of Zhirinovsky's supporters have since defected to the Communist Party, whose leader, also a fervent nationalist, claims that great power status is an intrinsic part of Russia's national identity and that a "voluntary" restoration of the old Soviet block is "a historical necessity" The Economist, 16 March , p. However, it is also sobering to observe that the far right's real hard core views Zhirinovsky with contempt. One example is the Russian National Unity led by Alexander Barkashov who is building a neo-fascist movement whose declared objective is to "fight Nor need one look to extreme far-right groups to find evidence of manipulation of nationalist sentiment.

    Neither Boris Yeltsin, who has led a merciless and ineffective war since against the determined resistance of the Chechen people, nor General Alexander Lebed, his new security advisor, have been shy about exploiting nationalist feelings to attract popular support. Several reasons are advanced to explain the resurgence of right-wing nationalism in the former Soviet block. At first, one could imagine it being a means of filling the ideological void left by the collapse of the communist system.