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Chapter 18. The Russian Question | Sept. 16, 2021 |
By Serhii Plokhy

"Anti-Globalism, anti-Islamism, Nationalism." Inscription on a banner at the Nationalist March in Moscow, November 4, 2012. Image source: RiMarkin, flickr.com.

The fall of the USSR exposed the confusion between the Russian (later Soviet) empire and the Russian nation prevailing throughout Russian history. In 1991, Russia abandoned the non-­Slavic components of its empire but has found it difficult to part ways with the Slavic ones. Russia today has enormous difficulty in reconciling the mental maps of Russian ethnicity, culture, and identity with the political map of the Russian Federation, especially when it comes to neighboring Ukraine and Belarus.

The Russian question, understood as a set of problems facing the Russian nation during and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was first placed on the public agenda by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russia's best-known author of the second half of the twentieth century, in a series of essays published between 1990 and 2008. One of those works, The Russian Question at the End of the Twentieth Century (1994), includes a survey of Russian history from the era of Kyivan Rus´ to the first post-­Soviet years. The Russian question, according to Solzhenitsyn, was really about the survival of the Russian nation. He discerned threats from various quarters, including moral decay, economic degradation, the rising influence of Western values and institutions, and the partitioning of Russia by newly created state borders. Solzhenitsyn looked back to the final decades of imperial rule as a paradise lost for the Russian Empire and the Russian nation.

Solzhenitsyn claimed that he was not an imperialist. Indeed he was not. He was a Russian nation-­builder. As early as 1990, he called on the Russians to separate themselves from the non-­Slavic republics, even if they wanted to stay together with Russia. Solzhenitsyn imagined the Russian nation as consisting of a Great Russian core and an East Slavic periphery including Ukrainians and Belarusians, as well as Russian-­speakers residing in other republics. His ideal solution was the creation of a "Russian Union" consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and northern Kazakhstan. As this vision of Greater Russia failed to materialize in 1991, Solzhenitsyn advocated an enhanced role for the Russian state in providing legal protection for Russians and Russian-­speakers abroad, as well as the formation of Russian ethnic autonomies in parts of foreign states where Russians and Russian-­speakers constituted a majority.

'Sapere aude'
by Oui (Oui) on Mon Aug 28th, 2023 at 07:10:04 AM EST
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