The Rise of Russian Nationalism

Kasparov attempts to shield himself.
Kasparov attempts to shield himself.

On April 16th, 2005, Garry Kasparov, the thirteenth world chess champion, had just concluded a lecture in front of a group of youth activists. As the meeting ended, a young man posing as a chess fan approached the world champion petitioning for an autograph. Kasparov graciously complied and reached over to accommodate the young man’s request. Immediately, the individual attacked Kasparov striking him over the head with a large wooden chessboard; after attempting to attack him a second time, the assailant was pulled off and subdued. Kasparov suffered an acute haematoma. The individual who attacked him belonged to the National Bolshevik political party (NBP). What caused this attack on an individual who had brought prominence and prestige to Russian chess for over twenty years? The answer lies in Kasparov’s actions only four days before when he announced the creation of a political party in St. Petersburg called the Republican Party of Russia; he outlined its goals to Russian media as the combined effort to seize forty per cent of the seats in the Duma. In addition, Kasparov detailed his attempts to remove Putin from office and restore a full-fledged democracy in Moscow with the added support of prominent businessmen and their sizeable donations. After the attack, Kasparov was banned from appearing on any of the top three television stations currently run by the existing government.

Russia in the 21st Century: The Rise of Nationalism

The reemergence of Russian nationalism since the collapse of the former Soviet Union has led not only to a reevaluation of American-Russian relations but also to the possibility of a second Cold War. Parties with strong nationalistic platforms based on racial or cultural views of Slavic superiority now make up thirty per cent of the Duma, Russia’s governing assembly. As the Russian economy continues to struggle, questions remain unanswered as to the source of turmoil within Russia. The recent war with Chechnya resulting in the deaths of over ten thousand Russian soldiers only clouds the issue further; leading many in Russia to contemplate their own standing within the world. These factors, coupled with the loss of prestige, power and a plummeting standard of living has fueled the re-emergence of Russian nationalism both within the Kremlin and without, from pro-Putin factions to violent fascist organizations who wish to rid Russia of anything deemed undesirable, from Western influence to that of racial and cultural segregation. Caught in the middle are small democratic parties struggling not only to find a viable place in Russian politics but also to fend off violent opposition within their own country.

Russian nationalism is on the rise, but it is not the same notion that prevailed in the days of Boris Yeltsin, when nationalism was diluted with the temperance of other ideologies such as communism or the anger over social inequality. Russian nationalism has secured an agenda completely devoid of such trappings and has instead centered on patriotic fervor, strengthening opposition against the moral and spiritual decay of Russian values. The Russian Orthodox Church has for the first time joined it in voice. Youth parties not seen during the communist era have sprung up, held together by a loose agglomeration of strong-arm patriotism and youthful fervor. Vladimir Putin has consolidated his power and a backlash has been unleashed against Russian capitalist ventures such as Yukos and Menatep, resulting in the past arrest and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, key business leaders.

Conditions for Change: Post-Soviet Nationalistic Tendencies

In the past, Russian nationalism was attractive for its stern adherence to the restoration of law and order. The first five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union saw a rise in crime and a drop in the standard of living for the average Russian, coupled with a loss in prestige on both a national and international scale. As a result, the nationalistic reactionary VladimirZhirinovsky was able to garner twenty three per cent of the vote in the 1996 presidential elections on the platform of eradicating crime and re-establishing Russian prominence with force, advocating the utter destruction of Chechnya and the desire for Russia to engaged in imperialistic actions such as the seizure of a warm-weather port in the Indian Ocean. Vladimir Zhirinovsky defines nationalism as follows, “Internationalism is the idea of mixing. Nationalism is the idea of qualitative difference. Nationalism is a separate apartment-not a communal apartment or a dormitory. Living in this apartment, you will visit your neighbors with pleasure, and also have them as guests, but you will not share their dining table or their toilet. In my apartment I am the boss. And I alone will decide whom I will invite, and whom I will not even open the door to. As a human being I might feel sorry for the homeless or those who had their homes burnt down, but I am not obliged to let them stay overnight. Especially since there are so many of them and I only have a two-room apartment. The same is true in a nationalist state. The Southerners (minorities) have filled up all of Moscow. Russian cities should not be dormitories.” Those in the West perceived such reactionary dogma as amusing, if not the ramblings of a crazed individual, until the stunning showing in the presidential election that in turn resulted in Western horror at such actions. Since then, his Liberal Democratic party has been overshadowed by an increasing number of nationalistic parties with the added benefit of receiving Russian governmental funding, as well as assistance in surveillance and greater leeway in attacking their opponents. There are, however, two distinct differences in the multiplicity of Russian nationalistic parties and the objects of their fervor.

As living conditions continue to deteriorate, nationalistic tendency tends to favor racial policy in order to find a suitable scapegoat. It is much easier to point to a class of people or shadowy conspiracy-laded theories than at the government, for a variety of reasons. The first being that for centuries, dating back to Tsarist control, Russians have rarely questioned the government for fear of retaliation or for fear of losing the only institution that provides a basis for security. Having eliminated any authoritarian reasons for the current plummet in the standard of living, many ordinary Russians are now turning to an extreme form of xenophobia represented by a myriad of racially charged organizations, the vast majority of these groups adopting national socialism as the instrument for change. Polls that have been conducted in the recent months already show the shift toward nationalism and racial pogroms. The All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies recently published the results of a poll in which 61% of those polled approved of the "Russia for Russians" slogan, almost twice the 31% level recorded in 1998, and the Ekspertiza Foundation in Moscow found that 60% of those surveyed wanted to limit the presence of people from the Caucasus (Chechens, Dagestanis, Azeris and Armenians, among others) in the country, while 51% wanted similar constraints on the Chinese and 42% wanted to limit the influence of Jews. "The soft encroachment of nationalism increasingly permeates Russia," says the author. "What is happening is unprecedented”. Izvestia, a Moscow-based newspaper, has published figures in which at least 15,000 people have been attacked by Neo-Nazi groups and that the attacks are increasing at an annual rate of 30 per cent. The International Bureau for Human Rights states that of the seventy thousand “skinheads” who operate in the world, almost fifty thousand of them are in Russia alone. Russian nationalists provide visible targets for the public’s consumption and a multiplicity of social grievances. The fictional elements of aggressive nationalism fit easily within the return to a Russian identity cloaked within an imperialist program. This appearance in turn is attractive to those seeking a national redemption. This is a classic illustration of the politics of resentment, which as Liah Greenfield has stated, provide the emotional foundation of nationalist ideologies in all historical latecomers, including Russia. Of special note is the attraction of extremist views to those of the lower economic classes. The appeal to subjective experience among the lower classes is the ideological glue that binds those Russians who are attracted to the message of explanation as to why they are in such a dire economic predicament. As Veljko Vujacic writes, “The identity of personal experiences of deprivation and marginality is directly related to the need for compensation and identification with the nation.”

Anger against the “oligarchs” has been on the rise as well. The Russian populace is resentful of a small core of individuals who had the foresight to seize key Russian industrial and commercial sectors for very cheap prices during the Russian economic upheaval in the mid-1990’s. Putin’s government, however, fears these individuals not so much for the envy they inspire, but for the potential hazard of supplying financial backing to candidates vying for power. To forestall such an event, Putin granted amnesty from investigation if the individuals towed the Kremlin line, but certain individuals such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was under suspicion in funding opposition to the Kremlin, have been arrested and jailed on the flimsiest of charges. The pro-Putin party, United Russia, and its leader Andrey Vorobyov said the jailed oligarch was funding the Motherland party, which is a strong nationalistic adversary of Putin. Other prominent oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky have been either chased out of the country or had their assets seized. In Gusinsky’s case, he owned the largest independent television station in Russia and was critical of Putin’s handling of the war in Chechnya. The result was an arrest on suspicious embezzlement charges and finally exile.

Also on the rise, going hand in hand with the national socialist movement, is a marked rise in anti-Semitism. There has always been a strong showing of anti-Semitism in Russia throughout her history, and this period of Russian “openness” has proved to be no exception. Earlier this year, a concentrated group of nineteen lawmakers, all with ties to nationalistic party affiliation such as the Motherland Party and the Liberal Democratic party, filed a motion in asking the Moscow court to not only investigate Jewish leaders over a text that they accuse of inciting hatred and dissent, but to ban all Jewish organizations throughout the Russian Federation. The text in question is the Kitsur Shulhan Arukh, an ancient document that is an explanation of ancient Jewish religious laws. Additionally, the group of MP’s introduced the request with a list of grievances supporting the ban, among the following reasons mentioned by the group were the belief that Jews were fermenting the anti-Semitic attacks, practiced ritual murder, illegally appropriated government property, and that “the whole democratic world today is under the financial and political control of international Jewry. And we do not want our Russia to be among such unfree countries”. After investigation, it was determined that the text did not ferment or inspire hatred, but this case demonstrated that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, anti-Semitism has entered the legal realm and must now battle not only violence within xenophobic groups but orchestrated legal repercussions from those trained to produce such a scenario from the ruling Duma itself. Two months later, another attempt was made, this time involving the signatures of an astonishing fifty thousand well-known public figures that have submitted a petition to the head Russian Prosecutor asking him to ban all Jewish organizations. The signatures represented artists, military officials, church officials and other publicly known individuals.


Demonstration of Russian Nationalists last winter demanding the return of the Soviet Union.
Demonstration of Russian Nationalists last winter demanding the return of the Soviet Union.

Emerging Trends: New Generation of Nationalists

Outside of the realm of parties and organizations that are primarily fueled by anti-Semitism and other racial policies are the emerging youth parties that stress Russian unity and homogeny. Ironically, it was the civil disobedience exhibited within the Ukraine that gave birth to Russian nationalism among the young. The Ukrainian Orange revolution was one of the first of its kind in a Slavic country after the collapse of communism, which was more of an internal collapse than a result of any reactionary policy. This recent revolution had a profound impact on Russian youth, primarily university and college students. For the first time, it was possible for the youth to help oust a self-designated leader (Viktor Yanukovich) and install the rightfully elected Viktor Yushchenko. The lesson was not lost on millions of Russians that if the Ukrainians could change a government so much like their own, then it was certainly possible in neighboring Moscow. The lesson was also not lost on the Putin Administration that had underestimated the power or even the possibility of mass demonstrations and the upheaval it caused around the world. Both the educated youth and Putin (or his close supporters as Putin has not publicly acknowledged formulating such a party) began planning the establishment of a patriotic front, although for entirely different reasons at first. The youth began organizing for the sole reason of establishing a powerful voice that would influence government policy and decisions, while those of the inner Kremlin began formulating organized demonstrations involving Russian youth that celebrated the achievements and goals of the Putin administration. Already in place was the Idushchiye Vmeste (Walking Together) movement that was created by Vasily Yakimenko in 2000. The group is openly endorsed by the Putin Administration and is funded by businesses that have close ties to the Kremlin. At the time, the Vmeste resembled that of the early Pioneer communist youth movement. However, after noticing the effects of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Yakimenko immediately formed a second group entitled Nashi (the Russian word for “ours”). This group is in some ways a radical departure from many of the nationalistic parties currently in existence in Russia for several main reasons. The main difference is the strong stance against anti-Semitism, a rare bedfellow for Russian nationalists. Recognizing the need for the inclusion of the Jewish intellectual elite, Yakimenko has lumped together Nazis and anti-Semites with other ideological opponents of the Nashi party, which include oligarchs, liberals, and other individuals who disagree with the particular party platform. Another difference in approach is the insistence of viewing the United States as a geo-political opponent and refers to the growing American sphere of influence as a direct threat to Russian sovereignty, going so far as to state that he considers Ukraine to be an American colony. Nashi has shown violent tendencies in past few months as opposition youth parties have been disrupted by Nashi members or at times even attacked. Differing also in its maintenance is the social structure of the Nashi party. Rock concerts, informal campground meetings, cookouts and other trappings of youthful entertainment are used to promote Kremlin policy as well as voice opposition to any liberal movement that is not in agreement with the Nashi platform. Infused within the entertainment are lectures and seminars toting Kremlin policy both concerning national and international affairs. Individuals who give lectures at these meetings have ties to the Putin administration (such as Gleb Pavlosky, Putin’s political consultant who told an enthralled audience that "…your task is to physically resist any attempts to carry out an unconstitutional coup”). Nashi has met unprecedented success. In the recent months its membership has swelled to over one hundred thousand members, as recent polls have shown that Russian youth overwhelmingly support Putin and his policy. The Public Opinion Foundation, for example, found that eighty seven per cent of Russians under the age of thirty-five support Putin.

This does not mean, however, that all youth-oriented parties are pro-Putin. On the contrary, there are three major nationalistic parties that are vehemently anti-Putin and include the following: the Left Youth Front which is headed by Ilya Ponomarev, the National Bolshevik Party that was created by the writer Eduard Limonov, and the Vanguard of Communist Youth lead by Sergei Udaltsov. As seems the norm for the creation of such parties, the membership is comprised of various factions who have come together to increase their strength through numbers. The Left Youth Party contains anti-globalists, anarchists, Trotskyites, and communists while the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) is comprised of leftists, anarchists and various figures from the entertainment industry such as a host of rock musicians. The NBP in particular is watched closely because of its preference for direct action, which include the temporary seizure of government offices and pelting political figures with eggs and other condiments. The Kremlin so fears the NBP that it refused to allow the NBP to register as a party and routinely accuses the organization as being criminal. The Kremlin has jailed over one hundred of its members (including their leader Limonov) in the past decade. Giving impetus to the creation of such antagonistic parties such as the ones mentioned are the reasons supplied by Illya Ponomarev concerning the creation of his own party, the Youth Left Front: “The democratic system of the 1990s has been destroyed. There are no traces of the democratic state -- no separation of powers, no system of checks and balances, no federalism, no local self-government. All branches of government have lost their independence and political expression through parliamentary procedures is impossible”.

In the last decade, however, a shift in aggressive rhetoric has been toned down to attract more members. Virtually all of the parties whose platforms rely on nationalistic dogma remember the mistakes of the Pamyat (meaning memory but implying vengeance) party in which they claimed that all of Russia’s problems stemmed from a secret cabal of Jews and Freemasons. Their fascist sixty-point program, issued as the Soviet Union collapsed, called for a future in which Russia “is ruled by both the Church and the army, and the need to purge Russia of alien elements, to rid the economy of Zionist Capital, and to punish those responsible for the millions who died under communism which was a Zionist engineered genocide”. Although one does not need to look far to find inflammatory rhetoric in each of the nationalistic parties currently in existence, the usage of such rhetoric has been reduced in favor of that which seeks to replace the woes of Russian society through efforts clothed in patriotic dogma. Previous exhortations concerning precise and explicit motives are now replaced by spiritual and moral concerns. Moral degradation is now blamed on Western or Russian liberal influence and only by adopting the particular party line will one effectively combat and eradicate the decay from within. However, most, if not tall, Russian politicians from one end of the spectrum to the other will not use the word “natsionalizm” as it is perceived in a negative light by virtue of its association with ethnic intolerance and National Socialism, regardless of whether the party in question includes those aspects within its platform. Russian nationalism is an intricate and multifaceted phenomenon. It ranges from moderate displays of national unity to those extremist organizations within Russia that advocate intolerance to perceived or imaginary threats. In fact, there is such a disparity within Russia concerning nationalist advocates, it becomes necessary to adopt Alan Ingram’s criterion for establishing definable boundaries. Ingram stated there is a clear dividing line separating the moderates from the extremists. Extreme nationalists attribute current Russian problems to the influence of perceived geopolitical and ethnic enemies while those of moderate nationalist views will blame Russia’s internal degradation due to the moral collapse and inherent failure of the Russian people to rectify the problem.

Church and State: Orthodoxy’s Role in State-Sponsored Nationalism

Accompanying the Kremlin in this matter is the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church has always been the final arbitrator as to what is “Russian” and what is not. Candidates who run within the sphere of Russian politics increase their clout by getting Orthodox backing, which at the moment is solidly behind the Putin administration. So much so that in 1997, the Kremlin passed into legislation limiting and controlling the influx of religions and other Christian denomination deemed a threat to Russian Orthodoxy including the various Christian denominations such as the evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic movements. This also includes other religions as well. Recent polls have shown a disturbing trend in nationalizing the Orthodox Church as more people call themselves “orthodox” than the number who believed in God. The explanation is rather simple. For centuries, the Russian Orthodox Church ruled hand in hand with Tsarist regime, the only setback being the installment of a Communist government, which held atheism as state policy for seventy years. There is an enormous resurgence within the Russian Orthodox Church in which to be a member of the Church is synonymous with national identity. The Church has almost always validated state policy. In turn, those who wish to aspire to the public office seek the church’s blessing. While the Orthodox Church has embraced Putin, it is questionable at best if the Church supports any other nationalistic party outside of Putin’s regardless of how many actually claim to be supporters of the Church. In fact, in June of this year, at a recent meeting of Nashi members, Vsevolod Chaplin, the leading spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, warned the large group of youth that a revolution similar to the Orange one in the Ukraine would only lead to massive bloodshed, echoing Putin’s concerns about a potential and devastating break up of Russia into smaller states. Only the month before the Church had held a roundtable discussion in which it discussed ways to use religious tradition to combat revolutionary movements. Joining in the discussion were State Duma Deputy Alexander Makarov and other activists intent on seeing Putin remain in power.

One must be careful, however, in rushing to prescribe a nationalistic status to the Church other than what it has demonstrated. The Church’s support could merely be a question of alliance because of the generosity of Putin in acknowledging not only the spiritual significance of the Church but his active support as well. Only time will tell if the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and its actions is one of subservience to the Kremlin or one of true Christian values regardless of party affiliation.

Vladimir Putin: Crossroads of Change

Vladimir Putin’s term as Prime Minister will soon be over, speculation of course is that he will once again assume the Presidency. I expect a marked increase in nationalistic and patriotic fervor in the years to that pivotal moment, both from the viewpoint of the Kremlin, as well as other nationalistic parties regardless of party platform, whether it is racial policy, economic reform or outright hostile Russian militarism. What holds this myriad of nationalistic movements in check is two reasons. The first is that the parties themselves differ in the reasons given for the struggle to power and, by so doing, provide a checks-and-balances system of regulation preventing one from gaining too much power over the other. Almost all these parties have a multiplicity of political persuasions bound by only a few key points. For some it is anti-Semitism, for others it is anti-Semitism that is to be condemned, some want economic reform and a more Westernized approach to democratic government while others desire the abandonment of Western “corruption” as it leads to spiritual and moral decay. The second reason is surprisingly Vladimir Putin himself. Putin has lead his country for ten years, struggiling to keep a slowly collapsing economy afloat within the present global economic turmoil, dealing with a troublesome Georgia who they have already gone to war with, and offering his countrymen a secure stability that has a possibility of being neither. He is a cautious individual who does not make decisions hastily, it might even be said that he is paranoid at times (surely a symptom of his years of service in the KGB). He has a few advisors upon whom he trusts. His circle of advisers is comprised of two tiny groups, each numbering about six members with three of them belonging to both. One group gathers on Mondays to weigh economic and social policy, and on Saturdays the other discusses national security and international issues. This inner circle is split into two feuding factions: the siloviki ("men of power") and the liberals. The siloviki are a tight-knit band of mostly military and KGB veterans who dominate the country's security and intelligence ministries and believe in the absolute state control of all facets of economic, political, and social life within Russia. The liberals believe more in Western-style market reforms, however full-fledged democracy is not high on their agenda. They include individuals such as Vladislav Surkov, who is believed to be the leader in recent efforts to re-write the Constitution so Putin can rule the country indefinitely. What both groups do have in common is that neither faction has any admiration for democracy, which in their minds only makes it more difficult to govern a country that is already to hard to govern. To put it simply, there are no insiders within the circle of power at the Kremlin who believe that democracy is a viable form of government. Ironically, the only individual who seems to give democracy a fighting chance at success is Putin himself. It is the vacuum of power that is to be feared, for if Putin leaves, the destiny of the country will be decided by those that already battle each other for supremacy based on a conglomeration of militant nationalism, racial policy, and a host of other unsavory beliefs. One can only hope that Putin either names a succesor or that a pure rational democratic leader is somehow able to take power.

Implications for East-West Relations

The stakes are high concerning the rise of Russian nationalism and its effect on American-Russian relations. In the balance hang the many nations that not only border Russia but also have declared or are attempting to declare their independence; and the rest of Eastern European countries which are just now coming to terms with their own struggles with democracy and the shift to a free market economy. The Russian war with Chechnya had cost well over ten thousand Russian lives and over one hundred and fifty thousand Chechnyan deaths, the vast majority being civilians. Their recent war with Georgia highlights how sensitive Russia is to independent nations who indulge in aggressive rhetoric (though is this particular case Russia claimed some legitimacy in their argument with Georgia over South Ossetia). In my own experiences while living there, people representing the races of the Lower Caucus region were routinely subjects of discrimination, proven by numerous spontaneous searches by the Russian Police. The apex of Russian nationalism is the eradication of certain classes of people to produce a “pure” Russian state coupled with the desire to assert their rightful place as a strong superpower. Recently, Vladimir Putin has lamented the fall of the Soviet Union, claiming that it was the most damaging aspect of Russian history in modern times.

The risk of a second Cold War or a possibility of the rise in antogonism between the two superpowers resides solely in the ability of extreme Russian nationalism to take the seat of government. What differs from the previous Cold War is that this will be a battle of identity rather than that of ideology. Ideology is in many ways an objective measuring stick - it can be easily applied to other countries to see if they agree or disagree with current state policy. Differences in identity, how nations see themselves in light of others, can exacerbate the situation; infused with pride and the notion of defending a way of life that is under attack from cultural and racial influences can result in the removal of emotional restraints and this is a situation that can result in explosive confrontation. Parallels from history are easy to obtain; one needs to look at public support for Hitler whose platform was also based on the supposed foreign attempts to remove German identity and culture, both from within and from without.

Very few people realize that sanity comes in numbers when dealing with cases of extremist and irrational views. If I were the only person to believe something strange, then I can possibly get locked up, but if seventy million others believe it as well, then it must be a "sensible" state policy. When Russian extremism puzzles the West, things such as the ranting of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who heads the third most popular political party in Russia, the West should remember that extremist views gain credibility simply by expanding the number of adherents to that particular view, no matter how absurd it may be. Again, for a similar situation one should only look at Hitler as an example of how one man went from the perception of a jailed lunatic in 1923 to dictating state policy a mere ten years later and manipulating sixty million Germans into believing that genocide was a viable option merely by propagating his view through numerical support. This, in turn, led to militant reactionary policy toward Germany’s neighbors. Russia is already upset at the success of breakaway republics that were once part of the Soviet Union. Anger over lost prestige is used as fuel to support nationalistic policy and history has always proved that there is a direct correlation between racially and culturally based views of superiority and imperialist expansion.

Conclusion: Possible Solutions

So what can we expect? My personal view is that the West-East dynamic is the key to forging a clear and reasonable path for Russia. One only needs to look at the four threats (United States, China, Japan, Latvia) that a recent poll among the Russian public has revealed to see that the ancient Tsarist paranoia is still there. Once again we have a clear indicator that Russia fears nations in every direction who express views of autonomy beyond their borders, whether reasonable or not. This leads the vast majority of Russians to further strengthen their belief that their very way of life is being threatened. The West is not helping matters by meddling needlessly in the affairs of those that are or were part of Russia’s sphere of control and influence, such as the Anerican presence at Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan. The West needs to be much more supportive of Russian internal problems, especially with her own struggles with terrorism (Chechnya). We can still apply pressure in obtaining concessions concerning democratic and economic reform, but we must be careful that we do not force Putin into the imperialist camp. We must, with the help of her European neighbors, ease Russian transition to democracy as well as prevent the rise of anti-Western nationalism. We must show through our actions that we have neither desire nor intention to control Russian sovereignty; similarly, it will help to hold Ukraine up to be an example of a successful democratic institution without the need for forced patriotic fervor that is fueled by racial or anti-Western policy. There are several ways to do this. Inclusion into NATO, further integration within the European Union, closer American-Russian cooperation are but a few of the possibilities; but in the end it is Russia who will embark on the path that leads to her destiny. The strongest recourse is the constant pressure put on Putin by Western leaders to keep the liberal democratic dream of a free Russia intact. Whatever the method used (financial incentives, increased cooperation, assistance to Russian parties expressing democratic reform without the trappings of overt Russian nationalism), it is imperative that we do not let Russia slip down into the dark abyss of imperialistic nationalism.

For centuries Russia has always struggled with her identity. Russia is the great enigma. A vast gray area between the East and the West, a nation which, throughout the centuries, has always had an identity crisis, never comfortable within the European community, and too proud to represent Asia. She has been distrustful of Europe and contemptuous of Northern Asia. After all, what other country can claim such extremes in culturally disparate borders: Finland on one side, North Korea on the other. The entire country is a stew of conflicting ingredients, where the average Russian thinks of contradiction and hypocritical stance as a normal way of life. This infects the society as a whole, from the governing authorities shaping misguided policies to the individual artists whose muse is that of a lamenting existential spirit.

How else can one explain how millions of Russians could die defending their soil against invaders, while their leaders sacrificed them on the altar of power and paranoia for the last 500 years? Stalin, Ivan the Great, the incompetent Tsarist monarchies, the recent Soviet leaders who screamed the Party line that they were there to free the oppressed peoples of the earth while subjugating and suppressing their own. From the Kremlin down to the common man, one sees views that are distinctly "Russian."

Russia is at a crossroads, and at a dangerous one at that. This forked path, though, is different than the one she faced while under the sway of Marxist ideology. No, this road has a hundred years of moss and undergrowth obscuring the vision of one man: Vladimir Putin. Only the ghost of Tsar Nicholas knows the hesitant uncertainty that this road entails.

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