20 years under Putin: a timeline

On April 26, the Institute of Modern Russia hosted a panel entitled “The Meaning of Patriotism in Post-Soviet Russia” at the World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) at Columbia University. IMR president Pavel Khodorkovsky chaired the panel of esteemed scholars, with Professor Richard Sakwa of the University of Kent participating as a discussant.



IMR Panel on Patriotism

Patriotism has become an increasingly discussed topic in Russia, especially given the country’s sensitive political environment, in which the Russian authorities actively exploit and propagate patriotic themes in order to fulfill the goals of the regime. To examine how the Russian public understands patriotism today, the Institute of Modern Russia launched a research project dedicated to studying this phenomenon. The first results of this research were presented at a panel entitled “The Meaning of Patriotism in Post-Soviet Russia” at the World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), held at Columbia University.

IMR president Pavel Khodorkovsky served as the panel’s chair, with Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, participating as a discussant. At the panel, IMR advisor Boris Bruk presented his paper entitled “What’s in a Name? Understanding Russian Patriotism.” A part of the research data used in this paper was collected in collaboration with the Levada Center, Russia’s leading polling organization. This survey questionnaire on Russian patriotism was conducted as an omnibus (nationwide) survey in February 2014. As the study showed, in an increasing number of cases, the authorities have sought to monopolize the notion of patriotism and thereby determine what constitutes “true patriotism.” Interestingly, however, the vast majority of Russians hold an entirely different view of this matter than the government. Almost 84 percent of Russians believe that patriotism is “a deeply personal feeling” that cannot be willed into existence by the authorities. Additionally, despite the fact that the term “patriotism” is defined as “love for one’s country,” Bruk’s research shows that Russian patriotism is associated with a number of “negative features of nationalism,” such as intolerance and xenophobia. For example, 73 percent of the survey respondents thought that the government has to stop the flow of immigrants into the country. (An article on the results of the survey will be published on the IMR website soon.)

Alexander Semyonov, a professor and chair of the Department of History at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, presented his paper entitled “Imperial Revolution and Imperial Citizenship in the Russian Empire in the Early Twentieth Century.” According to Semyonov, the nationalizing regime of the Russian empire of the early twentieth century disrupted the integrity of the Russian state. National mobilization efforts were aimed at secession and national independence, but civil law, institutions of governance, and the education system were not included in the nationalizing process. In his presentation, Semyonov compared the works of the British historian Sir John Seeley and those of the Russian political economist Peter Struve. Both of these scholars focused on imperial history (British and Russian, respectively), but Struve, who knew Seeley’s work, misinterpreted his writings with regard to the rights of national minorities in the Russian empire.

Finally, Ilya Gerasimov, executive editor of the international quarterly Ab Imperio, presented his paper entitled “History as the Last Refuge of a Patriot: Academician Chubaryan, Boris Akunin, and the Quest for a Unifying Russian History.” Gerasimov pointed out that in Putin’s Russia, history has become the last argument validating the existence of the country both for official historians like Alexander Chubaryan, who was in charge of developing a new unified textbook of Russian history, and for liberal opposition leaders like writer and linguist Boris Akunin, who came up with the ambitious project of producing an “objective” history of the Russian state for the masses. According to Gerasimov, the idea of the classical canon of Russian history has been adopted by both loyalists and the opposition and risks leaving behind a powerful and fatally destructive legacy.


Relevant Issues Discussed at the ASN Convention

The ASN Convention featured a variety of presentations on other relevant topics. As part of the panel on the Russian far right, Marlene Laruelle, a professor of international affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs, presented a paper on Russia’s national-democratic movement, which gained particular prominence in the December 2011 protests. According to Laruelle, the origins of this movement lie in “the anti-Putin strategy of the Limonovtsy (members of the banned National Bolshevik Party founded by Eduard Limonov), Alexander Belov’s calls for a European populism and politicization of the Russian March, and the new wave of nationalist intellectuals.” This movement, says Laruelle, is representative of Russia’s emerging middle class and is made up of people who want Russia to become “Russkoe natsional’noe gosudarstvo” (Russian national state). In Laruelle’s view, however, the relationship between nationalism and democracy is problematic.



As part of her presentation on the role of leadership in the study of the Russian ultranationalist movement, Sophia Tipaldou from the Autonoma University of Barcelona (Spain) spoke about the Movement Against Illegal Immigration. This group was founded in 2002 by the Potkin brothers and has become Russia’s “most significant extra-parliamentary radical organization.” Tipaldou believes that nationalists “have good perspectives [in Russia] because the demand for nationalism is on the rise.” However, the movement also faces a number of problems, including internal controversy and fragmentation.

Two roundtables, entitled “Euromaidan, the Fall of Yanukovych and Russian Intervention” and “Maidan and Social Media,” were a last-minute addition to the ASN program; both events focused on the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

As part of his remarks at the first roundtable Adrian Karatnycky, a managing partner of Myrmidon Group, LLC, and a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Program on Transatlantic Relations, spoke about the most recent tactics used by Putin and his circle in Ukraine, including the involvement in military operations of irregular troops with combat experience and the takeover of buildings in an effort to rouse public protests. According to Karatnycky, Putin is aware of the fact that the “tactic of starting radical events . . . has not worked. His next tactic is to create the basis for social and economic unrest in Ukraine.”

Dominique Arel, chair of the Ukrainian Studies Department at the University of Ottawa and the ASN convention director, spoke about the language used by Ukraine and Russia to delegitimize their opponents. Speaking about the situation in Donetsk, Arel said that while the Ukrainian government used the term “antiterrorist operation,” what “we have been witnessing . . . is neither terrorism from the ‘green men,’ nor counter-terrorism from Kiev.” Instead, “the use of the word has the clear purpose of utterly delegitimizing the actions of the Donetsk armed men.” Similarly, the word “fascist” has been used by the Russian media for similar purposes, “giving the impression that Maidan insurgents are killing civilians, or will kill civilians if left unchecked.” The broader idea is to “criminalize the very act of opposition to Russian rule.”

The increasing role of Twitter and Facebook in political mobilization was emphasized at the special roundtable titled “Maidan and Social Media.” Joshua Tucker, an associate professor of politics at New York University, said that the new communication tools were of primary importance during the recent negotiations in Ukraine. Interestingly, as Tucker explained, the decision to reject one of Yanukovich’s offers during the course of negotiations first appeared in the media on Twitter: “No deal @ua_yanukovych, we’re finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you. #Евромайдан.” Within three hours, that tweet had been quoted in the New York Times. Similarly, the first appearance of Yanukovich’s arrest warrant in the media was on Facebook. Tucker suggested that in Ukraine, “Facebook was utilized for organization, Twitter for international communication and real-time communication of events.”

Mark Beissinger, a professor of politics at Princeton University and the director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), brought a comparative perspective to the discussion. According to Beissinger, the Internet has become a coordinating mechanism in nondemocratic states. “The examples of Tunisia, Egypt, Ukraine, and Russia show that ‘virtual civil society’ can provide an effective structural basis to challenge the autocratic regime,” Beissinger said.