Putin’s stern condemnation of ‘caveman nationalism’ strongly contradicts Western makes an attempt to color him as Russian ultranationalist

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By Paul Robinson, a professor on the College of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet historical past, navy historical past, and navy ethics, and is writer of the Irrussianality weblog.

Commentators have tried to match Vladimir Putin to varied fascist political figures from the previous. In actuality, the Russian president embodies a state-centred patriotism that celebrates Russia as a multiethnic neighborhood.

“Putin, like Hitler, is an ultranationalist.” If one was on the lookout for the de-facto Western orthodoxy about Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, this headline from 2014 would just-about sum it up. As American journalist Martin Kalb put it, in his e book Imperial Gamble, Putin is above all “ultranationalistic,” a frontrunner who’s “satisfied that solely an authoritarian, ultranationalist regime can shield Russia from its enemies.”

What is supposed by “nationalism,” not to mention “ultranationalism,” isn’t defined, though the implication is all the time that it’s one thing very unhealthy and that Putin is an adherent. Which makes it very exhausting to clarify why, in a video assembly this week with parliamentary leaders, Putin denounced in no unsure phrases what he referred to as “caveman nationalism”. One thing doesn’t add up.



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The concept that Putin is an ultranationalist has been a typical theme of Western reportage for no less than a decade, with even probably the most minor statements getting used as proof to justify the nationalist label.

For example, in a gathering final week with the heads of Russian media businesses, Putin used the phrase “passionarity,” a time period invented by the Soviet ethnographer Lev Gumilev. The president had used the phrase as soon as earlier than, in a speech to the Federal Meeting in December 2012. For Monetary Instances journalist Charles Clover, lengthy forgotten in Moscow, this was a sign that Putin had adopted an aggressive new ideology and was, as Clover wrote, “extolling chest-thumping nationalism.”

Sadly for Clover, a fast take a look at the remainder of Putin’ speech exhibits that the reference to Gumilev had nothing to do with nationalism. Furthermore, the one different time Putin had talked about Gumilev, at a gathering in Kazan in 2005, he mentioned the next:

“Russia, creating as a multinational nation, might organically combine the richest heritage of the Volga land, or, as Lev Gumilev mentioned, ‘the good steppe tradition.’ … With out exaggeration the precept of toleration, each nationwide and spiritual, was central to the formation of Russian statehood. … Due to its multi-ethnic unity our nation withstood many trials … the preservation of social, interethnic, and inter-religious peace is the essential, elementary situation of Russia’s profitable growth. … In opposing nationalism and extremism the state should depend on all of the Federation’s topics.”



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Clover was so satisfied that Putin’s reference to Gumilev proved the Russian president’s “chest-thumping nationalism” that he wrote a complete e book to show his level. However in actuality Putin has used Gumilev to do the precise reverse – to denounce nationalism and extremism.

This kind of sloppy reporting is, sadly, all too frequent. On one other event, Putin cited nineteenth-century thinker Konstantin Leontyev’s phrase “flowering complexity,” after which went on to confer with Russia as a “state-civilization.” This was interpreted as a elementary shift in nationalist rhetoric, indicating that Putin considered Russia as a definite “civilization.” However, truly, Putin went on to say: “It’s exactly the state-civilization mannequin that has formed our state polity. It has all the time sought to flexibly accommodate the ethnic and spiritual specificity of explicit territories, making certain variety in unity. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and different religions are an integral a part of Russia’s identification, its historic heritage and the present-day lives of its residents. The principle job of the state, as enshrined within the Structure, is to make sure equal rights for members of conventional religions and atheists, and the suitable to freedom of conscience for all residents.”

In different phrases, Russia isn’t a civilization based on any particular ethnicity, faith or tradition, however is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional nation, whose residents are sure collectively by a typical state.

That is what you would possibly name civic nationalism. In fact, one could be a civic nationalist and in addition be an aggressive imperialist – there’s no scarcity of historic examples – however one imagines that civic nationalism isn’t what individuals keep in mind once they apply the nationalist label to Putin.



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As a substitute, one suspects that what they’re pondering of is a kind of chauvinistic ethno-nationalism that asserts the prevalence of the Russian individuals over others. Sure developments in recent times have served to justify this picture. One is the Russian authorities’s assertion of a proper to defend the “Russian world” (Russkii mir), incorporating the diaspora of Russians dwelling exterior the borders of the Russian Federation. One other is modifications to the Russian structure final yr which included a phrase within the structure that claims, “The state language of the Russian Federation on all its territory is the Russian language, because the language of the state-forming individuals.”

This final phrase drastically happy Russian nationalists, because it seemingly grants Russians a particular standing throughout the Russian Federation. In actuality, although, one can view it as a scrap thrown to the nationalists to maintain them quiet, whereas additionally being one thing which is solely symbolic and has no sensible penalties in any way.

That is in line with Putin’s basic strategy to politics, which entails occasional nods to nationalism and any variety of different ‘isms,’ however in a decidedly superficial approach. Pragmatic issues of state take precedence over ideological constructs.



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Russia’s rulers have all the time been conscious that they govern a multi-ethnic nation with quite a few cultures and religions and that Russian nationalism is liable to exacerbate tensions amongst Russia’s 100+ nationalities. Putin is not any exception. This explains his assertion this week. “Caveman nationalism, with its slogan ‘Russia is just for Russians,’ solely harms Russians, solely harms Russia. …. We should guarantee that the tradition of each nation, its historical past, and roots … is revered and honoured in our nation,” Putin defined.

Vladimir Putin has mentioned this kind of factor many instances previously. One should assume that he has a motive for repeating it. More than likely, that motive is a perceived risk from nationalists on each the left and the suitable, who demand things like restrictions on immigration or a extra assertive overseas coverage in protection of Russians overseas, notably in Ukraine. Putin’s assertion about “caveman nationalism” was clearly an assault on such types of nationalist politics.

Putin can certainly be referred to as a nationalist, within the sense of being an advocate of a state-centered civic nationalism and an assertive defender of state pursuits at residence and overseas. This isn’t, nonetheless, what most individuals imply by the time period “nationalist.” It might most likely be higher if the phrase have been deserted when discussing the Russian chief’s politics and one thing extra appropriate was discovered. It obscures excess of it enlightens.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the writer and don’t essentially symbolize these of RT.

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