Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Where's the old "union?"

Huge, diverse country. How do you unify it?

Putin can’t seem to find a ‘national idea’ for Russians, so he’s proposing a law to do it.
The Russian president… has a day job that entails keeping together a massive, multiethnic country whose 140 million people, 25 years into Russia’s post-Soviet existence, still struggle to find a common message to rally around.

And because there is no serious political opposition… it falls to the Russian leader to address the problem himself.

Putin has tried mixing and matching shards of Russia’s fragmented history to create a version his countrymen can embrace… He has tried to come up with a “national idea” for them no less than three times: after toying with “competitiveness” and “saving people,” earlier this year he told a meeting of regional business leaders that he had settled on “patriotism.” He has publicly asked legislators to define the “Russian nation” by law, although there confusion about what that means.

Then there was Friday’s national holiday, the first day of the three-day weekend in November that used to be reserved in Russia for celebrations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In 2005, the Kremlin replaced that with National Unity Day, a commemoration of an early 17th-century military victory credited with ending the strife-torn years called the Time of Troubles. It was a way to let Russian people keep their long weekend without the annual reminder that a rabble of commoners can overthrow an autocrat.

More recently, Unity Day has evolved into an effort to contain and co-opt nationalist sentiment among ethnic Russians, and head off the chance that any of the country’s 190 or so ethnic minorities will spring the kind of separatist ambitions that led to more than a decade of bloodshed in Chechnya…

More worrisome discord on Unity Day was found closer to home, in a southeastern Moscow neighborhood where hundreds of ultranationalists chanted “Glory to the White Race.” One slogan made an allusion to sending Putin to a prison colony in the Far East…

In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to consolidate the country with his idea of socialism “with a human face.” Boris Yeltsin made anti-Communism his rallying cry until the Communists were gone…




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