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Russian nationalism

Not to be confused with Nationalisms in Russia.

Russian nationalism is the nationalism that asserts that Russians are a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Russians. Russian nationalism has its roots in the 18th century. It was closely related to pan-Slavism from its origin of Russian Empire, Soviet Union to the recent 2014 Crimean crisis.[1] There are a number of individuals and organizations in Russia today, consisting of both moderate and radical nationalists.


Early nationalism

Nationalists trace the roots of Russian greatness to the 15th century, when the Grand Duchy of Moscow subordinated the north Rus principalities. In 1469 Grand Prince Ivan III the Great of Moscow married Sophia Palaiologina, a niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. Upon this, they claim, Ivan adopted the concept of Moscow as the Third Rome, the heir to Rome and Constantinople (the 'Second Rome') as capitals of the true Christian faith.[2] Since then, Russia uses the Byzantine Double-headed eagle as its coat of arms. The idea was found in a letter concerning a matter of religion and heresy composed by the Russian monk Philoteus (Filofey) of Pskov in 1510 to Ivan's son Grand Duke Vasili III, which proclaimed, "Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!".

Ivan IV adopted the more pretentious title of Tsar (from Caesar), Russian equal to English 'Emperor'. He was styled "Tsar of All Rus" (Царь всея Руси), thus nominally claiming the whole territory of medieval Kievan Rus. The key ideology of the time was that Muscovite tsardom, as the only self-governed part of what once was united Rus, and the only state ruled by monarchs of Rurikid dynasty, is the only legitimate successor to Kievan Rus.

In early 17th century part of Muscovy was conquered and occupied for a time by Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a period known as the Time of Troubles. A national uprising, led by prince Dmitry Pozharsky, drove Poles away. Nevertheless, the Time of Troubles heavily affected Russian society for the next century, making both rulers and common people conservative and hostile to foreign influence and non-Orthodox beliefs. The new Romanov dynasty continued styling themselves "Tsars of All the Russias", and eventually, by conquest or union, they actually gathered most of the territory of Kievan Rus.

Imperial Russian nationalism

Further information: Pan-Slavism and Slavophilia
File:Памятник Тысячелетие России в Новгороде.JPG
The Millennium of Russia monument build in 1862 that celebrated one-thousand years of Russian history.

Peter I's reforms brought westernisation to Russia, and throughout the whole 18th century any Russian national sentiment, such as national costume, hairstyle, was unpopular and even discouraged in the Russian nobility class. For example, wearing a beard under Peter I was a subject to fine. The nobility preferred to speak French rather than Russian even in private until the mid-19th century. The 19th century saw the emergence of Russian nationalism. A formula of Russian motto, saying "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality" was coined by Count Sergey Uvarov and adopted by Emperor Nicholas I as official ideology. Three components of Uvarov's triad were:

Slavophilia movement became popular in the 19th-century Russia. Slavophiles were determined to protect what they believed were unique Russian traditions and culture and opposed influences of Western Europe on Russia. Aleksey Khomyakov, Ivan Kireevsky and Konstantin Aksakov created the basis of the movement.

File:Russian poster WWI 060.jpg
Russian World War I era poster calling to buy war bonds.

Closely related to Slavophilia was notable folk revival in Russian art.[4] Many works appeared concerning Russian history, mythology and fairy tales. Operas by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Borodin, as well as paintings by Victor Vasnetsov, Ivan Bilibin, Ilya Repin, and poems by Nikolay Nekrasov, Aleksey K. Tolstoy, among others, are considered masterpieces of Russian romantic nationalism.[5] According to Tutchev, a notable Russian poet of 19th century :

Moscow and Peter's grad, the city of Constantine,
these are the capitals of Russian kingdom.
But where is their limit? And where are their frontiers
to the north, the east, the south and the setting sun?
The Fate will reveal this to future generations.
Seven inland seas and seven great rivers
from the Nile to the Neva, from the Elbe to China,
from the Volga to the Euphrates, from Ganges to the Danube.
That's the Russian Kingdom, and let it be forever,
just as the Spirit foretold and Daniel prophesied.

Pan-Slavism, an idea of unity of all Slavic Orthodox Christian nations, gained popularity in the mid to late 19th century. Among its major ideologists were Nikolai Danilevsky, Pan-Slavism was fueled and, in turn, was the fuel, in Russia's numerous wars against Ottoman Empire with the goal to liberate Orthodox nations, such as Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, and Greeks, from Muslim rule. The final goal was Constantinople, as the Russian Empire still considered itself the "Third Rome" and saw its duty in conquering the "Second Rome". Pan-Slavism had a key role in Russia's entry into World War I as well, since it is the 1914 war against Serbia by Austria-Hungary that triggered Russia's response.

As the 20th century was approaching, Russia was attempting to catch up to the Industrial Revolution. The already vast gap of wealth between the rich elite and the mass poor had grown even more. This caused patriotic enthusiasm to decline.

Revolutionary activities intensified, which culminated in the 1905 Russian Revolution. Revolution led to emergence of new nationalist and rightist organizationas and parties: Russian Assembly, Union of the Russian People, Union of Archangel Michael and other.

Their motto was 'Russia for Russians'. Those parties remained monarchist and anti-Semitic; they were organized by wealthy and powerful aristocrats such as Vladimir Purishkevich and Nikolai Yevgenyevich Markov.

World War I revived the national spirit and enthusiasm. However, as the war effort failed on the eastern front, the popularity of Nicholas II declined to the level when he abdicated during the February Revolution. After the subsequent October Revolution which resulted in the overthrowal of the Russian Provisional Government and the Russian Civil War, the loosely allied monarchist and anti-communist White Army continued to promote Russian nationalism, until they were defeated by the Red Army.

Soviet nationalism

File:Trotsky-Saint George allusion.png
Painting from 1918 during the Russian Civil War period, depicting Red Army leader Leon Trotsky as a modern-day Saint George of communism slaying the dragon, which with the top hat with the word "counterrevolution" in Russian. This also has allusion to Russian religion, as the depiction of Saint George slaying the dragon was a very popular theme in Russian iconography.

The Bolshevik revolutionaries who seized power in 1917 were nominally "antinationalists" and "antipatriots". The newborn Communist republic under Vladimir Lenin proclaimed internationalism as its official ideology using the Russian language—which was also the language of their party and government.[6] Since Russian patriotism served as one of the legitimizing props of old order, Bolshevik leaders were particularly anxious to suppress its manifestations and ensure its eventual extinction. They officially discouraged Russian nationalism and remnants of Imperial patriotism, such as wearing military awards received before Civil War, but not all their followers were like minded and in non-Russian territories Bolshevik power was often regarded as renewed Russian imperialism in 1919-1921. After 1923 a policy of nativization was adopted, that provided government support for non-Russian culture and languages within the non-Russian republics.[7]

After the death of Lenin, Stalin used the slogan of "socialism in one country" against his chief rival Trotsky and the latter's doctrine of permanent revolution. With Stalin's ascent there followed gradual downgrading of the internationalist thrust of revolution.[8] In mid-1930s with the prospect of a big war, Stalin concluded that the slogans of Marxism–Leninism had little appeal and decided to exploit selected aspects of Russian nationalism and patriotic symbols. The terms rodina (motherland or homeland) and otechestvo (fatherland), which had been out of currency since the Revolution, have become more commonplace in Russian literature.[9] Romantic Russian nationalist themes appeared in art, such as the historical epic films by Sergei Eizenshtein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, as well as Sergei Sergeyev-Tsensky's patriotic novels.

Moreover, the creation of an international Communist state under control of the workers was perceived by some as accomplishment of Russian nationalistic dreams.[10] Poet Pavel Kogan described his feelings of the Soviet patriotism just before the World War II:

I am a patriot. I love Russian air and Russian soil.

But we will reach the Ganges River,

and we will die in fights,

to make our Motherland shine

from Japan to England

According to Nikolai Berdyaev:[11]

The Russian people did not achieve their ancient dream of Moscow, the Third Rome. The ecclesiastical schism of the 17th century revealed that the muscovite tsardom is not the third Rome. The messianic idea of the Russian people assumed either an apocalyptic form or a revolutionary; and then there occurred an amazing event in the destiny of the Russian people. Instead of the Third Rome in Russia, the Third International was achieved, and many of the features of the Third Rome pass over to the Third International. The Third International is also a Holy Empire, and it also is founded on an Orthodox faith. The Third International is not international, but a Russian national idea.

Another aspect was revanchism. In World War I, much of Russia's Baltic territory declared independence, resulting in the formation of the new nations of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the latter also annexed portions of Belarusian and Ukrainian territory. Before and during World War II, the USSR forcefully annexed most of the Russian Empire's former territory.

File:Russia stamp no. 1441 - 65th anniversary of end of WW II.jpg
Russian stamp commemorating the 65th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War.

The Soviet Union's war against Nazi Germany became known as the Great Patriotic War, hearkening back to the previous use of the term in the Napoleonic Wars, the Patriotic War. The Soviet state called for Soviet citizens to defend the 'Motherland'; Stalin proclaimed the slogan "Not a step back!". At the same time, Nazi Germany organized collaborationist military units such as Vlasov's army and Krasnov's Cossacks. The strong patriotism of Vlasov's liberation army presented Russians during the Second World War with a strong alternative to the state-centered nationalism promoted by the Stalinist regime.[12] In 1944, the Soviet Union abandoned its Communist anthem, The Internationale, and adopted a new national anthem.

In late Soviet years, manifestations of nationalism appeared in literary and cultural spheres. Some nationalistic elements can be seen in Village Prose, a Soviet literary movement beginning during the Khrushchev Thaw. In 1965 the All-Russian Society for the preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments was founded in order to halt the wanton destruction of Russian historical monuments, particularly old churches. In 1978 month-long exhibition of paintings by Ilya Glazunov in Moscow with religio-patriotic message attracted some 500,000 visitors.

Within the dissidents movement, there were also many nationalists, who spread their thought via samizdat. In 1971-1974 important nationalist samizdat journal Veche was published. The journal's editor Vladimir Osipov had earlier been arrested and sentenced to seven years in the camps for samizdat activities. Before Veche was suppressed by the KGB in 1974, it succeeded in attracting a considerable audience. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was seen as a liberal nationalist and leader of the right wing of the soviet dissident movement.

Contemporary nationalism

File:Romanov Flag.svg
The so-called Romanov flag is used by some Russian nationalists and monarchists

With the fall of Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church restored much of its Tsarist-Russia influence on the society. The church became a common source of Russian pride and nationalism. Yet the official ideology did not turn completely to Imperial monarchist sentiment, but rather tried to maintain a balance between Tsarist and Soviet ideals. The ruling United Russia party insists its view of Russia is a multi-national republic and calls national tolerance one of its key platforms.

Nevertheless, many nationalist movements, both radical and moderate, arose in modern Russia. One of the oldest and most popular is Vladimir Zhirinovsky's right-wing populist party LDPR, which had been a member of the State Duma since its very creation in 1993. Rodina was a popular moderate left-wing nationalist party under Dmitry Rogozin, which eventually abandoned nationalist ideology and merged with the larger socialist party Fair Russia.

File:2014-05-09. День Победы в Донецке 231.jpg
Rally of supporters of the Donetsk People's Republic on occasion of Victory Day held in Donetsk, 9 May 2014

Of the more radical, ultranationalist movements, the most notorious is Russian National Unity, a far-right group good for organizing paramilitary brigades of its younger members. Others include: neo-monarchist Pamyat, the Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, and Movement Against Illegal Immigration. This movements revived the 'Russia for Russians' slogan, and usually attract young skinheads. These parties organize the annual rally called Russian March.

A rise of radical nationalism in modern Russia is considered to be a result of several factors: the humiliation after the fall of the Soviet Union; a response to the activity of ethnic criminal[13][14] groups from the South Caucasus and Central Asia and ongoing illegal immigration from these regions; a reaction modern Russian enforced national tolerance. In modern Russia, the term националист (Russian pronunciation: [nətsɨənɐˈlʲist]) or "nationalist" bears the negative connotation of far-right nationalists and neo-fascists, rather than in the word's original meaning. Some parties like United Russia use the word as a pejorative and synonymous to chauvinist regarding their right-wing opponents.

The financial crisis starting 2008-2009 saw the anti-immigration sentiment become more accepted in Russia, due to an increased concern that (particularly illegal) immigrants would compete with the domestic workforce over jobs - or, if not getting jobs, turn to crime.[13][14] In December, 2010, the widespread growth of Russian nationalism became a major issue in the country's media following the series of rioting that came after the death of a Russian football fan stabbed by migrants from the North Caucasus.

Outside Russia, with the fall of Soviet ideology of enforced internationalism, national clashes amongst the ethnic groups within its former borders erupted. Due to the Soviet repressive occupation politics and the privileged status of Russians in the society, some post-Soviet states rejected anything Russian and Soviet as a symbols of occupation, and embraced russophobia (particularly in Baltic states and Georgia).[15] At the same time, Russians and several other national minorities did not accept the split of their[citation needed] country and demanded re-union with Russia. These conflicting ideologies led to wars in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. Russian minorities in the Baltic states created pro-Russian activist groups, as did the Russian-speaking majority of Crimea.

Following the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine Russia started forming close ties with Eurosceptic far-right and far-left political movements, supporting them financially and inviting them to Euroasian conferences in Crimea and Saint Petersburg.[16]

See also

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Further reading

  • John B. Dunlop. The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism. Princeton University Press, 1983.


  2. Duncan, Peter (2000). Russian Messianism: Third Rome, Holy Revolution, Communism and After. Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 9780415152051. 
  3. Hutchings, Stephen C. (2004). Russian Literary Culture in the Camera Age: The Word as Image. Routledge. p. 86. 
  4. [1] Edward C. Thaden. The Beginnings of Romantic Nationalism in Russia. American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Dec., 1954), pp. 500-521. Published by: The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies
  5. O. I. Senkovskii and Romantic Empire
  6. 2001: Perry Anderson, Professor of History and Sociology, UCLA; Editor, New Left Review: Internationalism: Metamorphoses of a Meaning. See also the interview with Anderson.
  7. Timo Vihavainen: Nationalism and Internationalism. How did the Bolsheviks Cope with National Sentiments? in Chulos & Piirainen 2000.
  8. John B. Dunlop. The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism. Princeton University Press, 1983. P.7
  9. "Google Ngram Viewer". Google. Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  10. Benedikt Sarnov,Our Soviet Newspeak: A Short Encyclopedia of Real Socialism., pages 446-447. Moscow: 2002, ISBN 5-85646-059-6 (Наш советский новояз. Маленькая энциклопедия реального социализма.)
  11. Quoted from book by Benedikt Sarnov,Our Soviet Newspeak: A Short Encyclopedia of Real Socialism., pages 446-447. Moscow: 2002, ISBN 5-85646-059-6 (Наш советский новояз. Маленькая энциклопедия реального социализма.)
  12. Cathrine Andreyev, Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet reality and emigre theories. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Berg-Nordlie, Mikkel and Aadne Aasland: Migration and National Identity in Russia (NIBR International Blog 07.02.2011)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Berg-Nordlie, Mikkel; Aasland, Aadne & Olga Tkach: Compatriots or Competitors? A Glance at Rossiyskaya Gazeta's Immigration Debate 2004-2009, in Sociālo Zinātņu Vēstnesis 2/2010 (pp. 7-26)
  15. Neil Melvin Russians Beyond Russia: The Politics of National Identity. London Royal Inst. of Internat. Affairs 1995
  16. Max Seddon (2015-03-22). "Racists, Neo-Nazis, Far Right Flock to Russia for Joint Conference". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2015-03-23.