New Russian Civilization


Prime Minister, and the next Russian President, Vladimir Putin plans to introduce criminal penalties for violation of migration rules. He also proposed that starting next year exams in Russian, history and the basics of Russian law become mandatory for immigrants.

Vladimir Putin's article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta intends to seize the initiative on the ‘national question’. ‘For Russia – with its wide range of languages, traditions, ethnicities and cultures – the national question is, without exaggeration, of fundamental value,’ wrote Putin. ‘Any responsible politician, public figure, must recognize that one of the main conditions of our country’s very existence is civil and interethnic harmony.’

Yet, he hasn’t explained his views clearly. The article is a confused mixture of contradictory statements.

Vladimir Putin seems to believe that the idea of multiculturalism has failed all over the world and Russia should return to the idea of a melting pot - in a way it was understood in the Soviet Union. Russian language and culture should be the foundation of the statehood. Minority rights must be respected but the goal is to create a new cultural identity, a kind of new Russian civilization.

This is very much what the Soviet leaders wanted. 'The aim of socialism,’ wrote Vladimir Lenin, 'is not only to bring the nations closer to each other but to merge them into one’.

At times, they had to renounce this formula. Stalin wrote that ‘the essence of communist politics can be expressed in a few words: the rejection of any ‘claims’ and ‘rights’ to regions inhabited by non-Russians, recognition (not only in words but in deeds) of these nations’ right to independence; voluntary military and economic alliance of these nations with central Russia’.

However, the goal remained the same - a single state based on Russian culture.

In terms of formal law, the USSR was a federation, a union of independent states. Article 76 of the Constitution of 1977 said that ‘The federal republic is a sovereign soviet socialist state’. In practice, of course, the Soviet Union remained a unitary, centralized country.

In essence, the Soviet rulers tried to maintain the appearance of quasi-ethnic republics in hopes that one day ‘a flourishing national form will become socialistic in substance’. And there will be one language for all, Russian.

In this context, inconsistencies in Putin's speech become understandable.

According to Putin ‘colossal immigration flows’ represent millions of people ‘in search of a better life’. These surging numbers of emigrants and refugees, who are ‘fleeing from hunger and chronic conflicts, poverty and social unrest’, are forcing even the most developed and tolerant nations to address the ‘national question’.

Multiculturalism ‘rejects the notion of integration through assimilation’. It ‘elevates the idea of the right of minorities to be different to the absolute and, at the same time, insufficiently balances this right with civil, behavioural and cultural obligations in regard to the indigenous population and society as a whole’.

Multiculturalism leads to the formation of ‘closed national and religious communities…which not only refuse to assimilate, but do not even adapt’. It leads to xenophobia on the part of the indigenous population, which seeks to ‘protect its interests, jobs and social benefits from the foreign competitors’.

Russia is different. It is ‘not an ethnic state or an American melting pot where everyone is, one way or another, an immigrant’. Russia is a multi-ethnic state ‘with an ongoing process of mutual adjustment, mutual understanding and unification of people through families, friendship and work’.

Putin then quotes Ivan Ilyin, a philosopher and a writer, whom we would call today a proponent of multiculturalism: “Not to eliminate, not to suppress, not to enslave other people’s blood, not to stifle the life of different tribes and religions – but to give everyone breath and the Great Russia…to honour all, to reconcile all, to allow everyone to pray in their own way, to work in their own way, and to engage the best in public and cultural development.”

Yet, ‘Russian people are nation-forming…the great mission of Russians is to unite, and bind the civilization’, he says. ‘This civilization identity is based on preservation of Russian cultural dominance, which is not only carried by ethnic Russians, but all carriers of this identity regardless of nationality,’ Putin moves on. ‘This is the cultural code that has, in the recent years, been subject to some serious trials, which people have tried and continue to try to break. And it has, nevertheless, prevailed. At the same time, it needs to be nourished, strengthened, and protected.’

Putin calls for government involvement in education to continue with Russia’s tradition of cultural domination. ‘Our nation has always been a nation of readers,’ he says. ‘Let’s survey … compile a list of 100 books that must be read by every Russian high school graduate – and not simply regurgitated in school, but read on their own time.’

He is not advocating some kind of encroachment on the freedom of creativity or censorship, but rather making it clear that the state ‘must and has the right to direct its efforts and resources toward the resolution of recognized social and public problems. This includes formation of a worldview that binds the nation.”

Putin praises Hollywood, which allowed the United States to ‘shape the consciousness of several generations, and did so while introducing not the worst-possible, in terms of national interests and public morality, values. There is something to learn here’.

Rounding off his plan for uniting the country’s various edges, Putin advocates building a ‘national policy strategy, based on civil patriotism’.

‘Any person living in our country should not forget their faith and ethnicity,’ he writes. ‘But before anything else, he must be a citizen of Russia and be proud.’

Putin then turns to religion. ‘Of course, we are counting on an active involvement in this dialogue of Russia’s traditional religions,’ he said. ‘The foundations of the Christian Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism – with all of their differences and peculiarities – include basic, shared moral, ethical, and spiritual values: compassion, reciprocity, truth, justice, respect for the elders, family and work values. These value systems cannot be replaced by anything: and we need to reinforce them.’

At the same time, the secular nature of our state must be preserved, he added.

photo: © sabine voigt -


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