What to do with nationalism?

What to do with nationalism?


Interethnic battles, accompanied by the belittling of peoples who are taken to represent disputing, or even open insults to them, give rise to a sense of awkwardness and disgust in any sane person. This is especially true in cases where disputes occur between close peoples connected by kinship and spiritual ties.

It is known that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, having witnessed such a conflict between his followers from various tribes, ordered them to leave this, saying that such a thing “stinks”. There are many other, no less harsh, statements on this subject that are often cited by Islamic preachers who are trying to keep modern Muslims involved in ethnic conflicts from such manifestations. Some go even further and, relying on such hadiths, argue that for Muslims “nationalism is haram”, because it brings enmity and division between them.

But here is the problem – there is a situation in which such exhortations cease to work. The maximum that they are capable of is to cool down the heated national emotions or prevent their extreme manifestations, but it is worth introducing the slightest cause, and the unresolved conflict comes out again.

Why is this happening and how to deal with it? Let’s speculate.

Soviet people and nationalism

Most residents of the former USSR who received such an attribute as “nationality” in passports and various questionnaires (the so-called “fifth point”) perceived the “nation” much more easily than it was defined in Marxist-Leninist textbooks and dictionaries. “Nationality” in everyday life was considered exclusively as a “tribe”, belonging to which is determined by blood, which was facilitated by official practice, imputing a person’s nationality of his parents, and choosing it allows only one of them, if they are different.

The concept of “nationalism” in the USSR was as demonized as possible, but when the internationalist communist ideology ordered a long life, such extreme forms of manifestation escaped that shocked the inhabitants of countries officially considered national states.

It is clear that the latter had immunity to the extremes of nationalism, acquired over the long history of its formation, and in some cases, overcoming it, whereas in the first case yesterday’s convinced internationalists rushed headlong into the whirlpool of spontaneous nationalism. But no less important role was played by their incomprehension of nationalism as a complex, modern political phenomenon, due to the fact that, on the one hand, they used to perceive it as evil, on the other hand, they could not resist this evil, believing that they were forced by one evil respond to something else – coming from neighbors, enemies, etc.

But why did this “evil” become inevitable? And here it is necessary to understand that, in contrast to “nationalities” or “tribes”, which in various forms have existed since time immemorial, a nation is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. And the phenomenon is essentially political, associated with a certain socio-economic structure, which was well understood by the ideologists of Marxism, stigmatizing “bourgeois nationalism”, but poorly, like Marxism as a whole, understood by ordinary Soviet people, for whom “bourgeois” was just as incomprehensible horror story as “nationalism.”

The bourgeois in French or burgher in German called the specific world of citizens (bourgeois, burghers) as the “third estate”. For a long time it was ruled by the first two classes – the aristocracy and the clergy, the hierarchy of which was crowned by the monarch, he is sovereign. This order of things begins to change when the “third estate” in the struggle for their rights, starting with the requirements of limiting taxes and levies, challenges both the first two estates and the so-called sovereign monarch (the phrase “the state is me is the most famous example of this identification) “Attributed to the French king Louis XIV). These subjects, that is, taxed by the tribute or taxes of the townspeople, now recognize themselves as citizens, and declare their totality as a “nation”, from which sovereignty should now belong.

The appearance of such bourgeois or civil nations challenges the political order, not only within the countries where this is happening, but throughout the world. In a world where sovereignty belonged to the monarchs, situations often occurred when different peoples united under the authority of one monarch or there were durable states that included these peoples in their composition. However, from the moment that “nations” declare themselves “sovereigns,” the question automatically arose – why should they obey a foreign monarch or state? Therefore, starting from the so-called. The new era in Europe, nationalism is challenging the tribal monarchical empires, which one after another begin to crumble under their pressure.

By the beginning of the XX century in the so-called. In the old world, such empires were Austrian, Ottoman and Russian, which, once in the camp of countries that lost in the First World War, ceased to exist in their former form. The British Empire, which emerged victorious from it, briefly survived them. A few words should be said about the latter – Great Britain gradually released its colonies, which became independent states, uniting with them into a flexible interstate British Commonwealth of Nations. Great Britain itself is a rather interesting state union – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which includes individual national units: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. A separate, difficult question in this case is how it realized the national sovereignty of these nations, given the existence of a monarchy that unites them all. If simplified, then during the difficult history of the struggle of the nation against the monarchy and different nations, a system of a complex balance of rights and interests was built up among themselves, in which a limited monarchy plays the role of such a balancer.

No less interesting, but much more relevant for us, is according to which scenario similar processes began to develop in the vast expanses of the former Russian Empire. If her unfortunate colleagues – the Austrian and Ottoman empires simply fell apart into different national states, including those that arose within the borders of their core – Austria and Turkey, then something else happened to the Russian Empire. After the February Revolution, many of the emerging nations of the former Russian Empire, and now the Russian Republic, hoped that it could be transformed into a common federal union. In the elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1918, such multinational forces, together with a party of socialist revolutionaries (Social Revolutionaries) supporting these ideas, even received a majority and voted in favor of the decisions. However, by that time, the Bolshevik party had seized power in the capital by force and dispersed the Constituent Assembly, after which the “national outskirts” began to separate and prepare to defend their independence. A civil war broke out among the Russians themselves, but if the leaders of the “whites,” such as Denikin and Kolchak continued to advocate for a “united and indivisible Russia,” refusing to recognize the nations that had arisen, the “red” verbally recognized them and enlisted their support that they didn’t last but not least allowed them to win. However, recognizing the national “in form”, the Bolsheviks sought to be communist “in content.” As a result, a paradoxical state arose, nominally consisting of many equal nations, in fact subordinate to the totalitarian party-repressive system,

Since this totalitarian system recognized such fundamental values ​​as democracy or the right of nations to self-determination only in words, on those who sought their real implementation, it hung a demonized epithet-label – “bourgeois”. Therefore, by “bourgeois democrats” or “bourgeois nationalists” were meant only supporters of the relevant principles of social organization who did not want to put up with their transformation into the scenery of a totalitarian system. And when the communist empire began to crumble, it was precisely such forces that were at the forefront of this process, actually achieving the realization of the historical agenda that the utopian fanatics did not allow to realize a century ago.

Why is nationalism again relevant in Putin’s Russia?

Why is today nationalism again relevant in the republics of Russia and among a number of its neighbors? Only in a short period of time, when it seemed that the bourgeois-democratic revolution was taking place in Russia itself, its then leader called on its constituent republics to “take as much sovereignty as you can take away.” The price to these words became clear on December 11, 1994, when Russian troops entered Chechnya following this appeal. One can argue that Chechnya crossed the red line, proclaiming secession from Russia, while in its other republics at that time there were elected presidents and national assemblies, their real (and not fictitious) constitutions, and they built their relations with the center on the basis of federal and bilateral agreements.

But the special-service-militarist group that rose during the first war in Chechnya and came to power thanks to the second ended up ending all these rights and freedoms, turning them into the same fictions as they were during the USSR. However, those who came to power at the beginning of the 2000s and finally established themselves at their end, the forces in Russia in the attack on the political rights of the national republics went even further than the Communists. The latter at least verbally declared recognition of the right of nations to self-determination and ostentatious internationalism. But in the first decade of the 21st century, another paradoxical system was established in Russia – it was actually formed in the depths of the late Soviet special services intertwined with organized crime, but ideologically inheriting the lines of not “red” but “white” ones.

That is, after a century and after the fall of two empires – the tsarist and the communist, the peoples of Russia, instead of actually realizing their declared national rights, received their denial with the transition of the Kremlin to a purely colonial policy. Presidential envoys in the “federal districts” as actually governor-generals, the abolition of the election of heads of republics and their transformation into puppets, in a number of republics – the so-called WHO, and in the end there is already talk of liquidating the republics themselves.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the Ingush, who in the beginning of the 90s lost the Prigorodny district, and at the end of the tenth, faced with the fact that the Kremlin and its local puppets make decisions for them on the borders of their republic, the problem of nationalism became relevant. It also became relevant for the Tatars, who were faced with the expulsion of their language from the educational system of the republic, the Bashkirs, who were appointed a head diving into the baptismal hole with his wife and Christian children, and for many other peoples.

That is, one of the reasons why nationalism in today’s Russia is back on the agenda is because the tasks historically inherent in the period of national formation were not only not realized, but there was a rollback to their overt deny. The second reason, characteristic of Muslim peoples, in particular the Caucasus, is the failure of those projects and movements that have put forward an alternative to the struggle for the interests of individual Muslim peoples in the form of the idea of ​​a single “Islamic nation”.

In the Caucasus, these sentiments led to the proclamation of a pan-Caucasian Islamic state and a fierce attempt to create it by force at the end of the zero years of this century, which their ideologists opposed to the previous phase of the struggle for the state within national borders. By the middle – end of the tenth years, it became obvious that this attempt was historically untimely, lacking the necessary conditions for this, and that undermining the previous national political foundation of its struggle, it did not result in the creation of a viable supranational pan-Caucasian structure. As a result, its surviving supporters – except those who went even further in their utopian denial of reality, and new generations of those who are not happy with Kremlin policies in the Caucasus, have returned to their national positions as the most vital.

Old and new nationalism

Does this mean that we should come to terms with the inevitability of those ugly aspects of ethnic strife, with the description of which this article began? No, and here’s why.

Even if we accept the inevitability of nationalism at this stage, we must understand that only nationalism political and strategically minded can be effective, that is, nationalism of a cold mind and a verified strategy, and not of seething passions and reckless actions, often controlled from the outside.

Политический национализм требует совершенно другого уровня мышления, нежели т. н. бытовой или уличный национализм, причем, чем позже ему приходится стартовать, тем более  высокие требования к нему предъявляет жизнь. В XVII, XVIII, XIX веках, в период т. н. национального романтизма, да даже в прошлом XX веке национальные проекты еще можно было строить на основе состряпанных на скорую руку исторических мифов, потому что так делали все. И опровержения этих мифов соседями и противниками мало на что влияли, потому что основная масса представителей этих обществ была изолирована друг от друга, обитая в своей закрытой информационной среде. Сегодня, в эпоху доступности информации, и тесного взаимодействия в открытом информационном пространстве людей разных национальностей, необоснованные мифы легко опровергаются, а упорствующие в их защите загоняют себя в воронку интеллектуальной и моральной деградации. А с учетом того, что в условиях массового общества этим занимаются не историки, как раньше, а все «националисты» поголовно, и деградация эта приобретает массовые масштабы.

Сутью политического национализма является защита национальных интересов, но нынешние реалии предъявляют к средствам их защиты и определения куда более взыскательные требования. Соответствие им и отличает новый национализм от упрощенного национализма старого типа, переставшего быть эффективным.

For example, in Ukraine, until recently, nationalism, nationalists, Bandera were associated exclusively with “zapadentsy”. Not only ethnic Russians, Poles or Jews, but even ethnic Ukrainians who do not speak Ukrainian or speak bad Ukrainian felt themselves to be its potential victims. These fears are still being played out by the Kremlin imperial propaganda, broadcasting about the “genocide of Russian speakers”, the horrors of “Ukrainian Nazism”, etc., etc., but already much less convincingly than it could be before. The reason is Ukrainian nationalism, starting with the 2014 Dignity Revolution, it went to a fundamentally different level and turned into a political project open to everyone who wants to become part of it. As a result, he went beyond the ghetto of “true Ukrainians” in Western Ukraine, covering the whole country, including predominantly Russian-speaking regions. Therefore, not only Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationalists, but also the “Zhido-Banderaites” became commonplace, and the member of the Right Sector with the surname Ivanov was the first dead in the battle for Odessa on May 2, 2014 from the Ukrainian side.

Another example of such an approach, within the framework of the current “RF”, is demonstrated by the ideologist of Bashkir political nationalism Ayrat Dilmukhametov. If his predecessors so far did not go beyond the ethnic understanding of the Bashkir nation, which in this form makes up about a third of the population of Bashkortostan, then Dilmukhametov called for the formation of the Bashkir political nation, not only ethnic Bashkirs, but also patriots who want to join it republics of other nationalities.

Against this background, attempts to assert their national identity by ethnicly discrediting neighbors or opponents, as the nationalist ideologists of the old model sin – a clear anachronism. A similar approach is inevitable when blood has already been shed and there is a war going on between nations, as between Serbs and Croats, but for example, Czechs and Slovaks had the wisdom to admit that they are different nations and make peace. As a result, despite all the claims against each other, close ties remained between them.

Nationalist ideologists and agitators, who justify the peculiarity of their people by the fact that their neighbors are “unclean”, “base”, etc., etc., render this a bad service primarily to their people. Indeed, the protection of national interests does not always mean enmity with neighbors – the latter may be the consequence of such protection, but if these costs outweigh the achievements of such a policy or become an end in itself, such nationalism becomes counterproductive and harms its own people. Effective nationalism takes the differences of peoples and their interests as a given, which does not need to be justified by the superiority of some and the inferiority of others, and rationally evaluates what its people need, what they can do, and what, on the contrary, can push them to unnecessary sacrifices and lead to losses.

Nationalism as a commodity: affordable price and expiring shelf life

Accepting the paradigm of nationalism today as inevitable, one must be aware of its not only advantages and not only disadvantages, but also limitedness. Yes, in many parts of the world, nationalism today has again become in demand amid disappointment in international ideals and projects. This is somewhat reminiscent of the sale of goods with expiring but not yet expired products in chain stores – on the one hand, people don’t really want to buy such goods, on the other hand, when they don’t have money for something expensive and new, they can buy something which is cheaper, if you can still have time to use it safely.

But, following the same analogy, one must understand that tomorrow new and better products may appear on the shelves at the same price. For example, in Europe, in a number of countries, the position of nationalists is growing due to the inability of the EU to solve the problems they are facing. But if tomorrow it enters a different level of integration and new pan-European leaders appear that can entrain disillusioned peoples, they can seize the initiative. Similar integration projects are possible in other places, and it cannot be ruled out that once they become relevant for the Caucasus. And one who thinks about the interests of his people in the long term should understand that they will correspond to the preservation of relations that will be compatible with such cooperation, and not their destruction under the influence of uncontrolled emotions.

Harun Sidorov


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