State-led Nationalism in Today’s Russia
Uniting the people with conservative values?
Finnish Institute of International Affairs
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years, the Russian state has been described as becoming "more nationalistic”.
In the time period encompassing the Sochi Winter Olympics, the occupation of
Crimea, the war in Donbas that continues to this day, air strikes in Syria, and
the state seeking new legitimacy during the deepening economic crisis in
Russia, many notions have been connected to growing nationalism.
nationalism as such is an ambiguous concept. Moreover, there is hardly any
state in today’s global system that could be said to be totally devoid of
nationalistic argumentation. Therefore, the way in which the Russian state
leadership is using nationalism in order to achieve its political goals
requires a critical empirical study. Authoritarianism, conservatism, and even
imperialism have been discussed as "new” features of the Russian state. But the
change in the self-understanding of the Russian state is not a result of one
factor, such as strengthening national pride, but rather a wide range of ideas
that have been reshuffled in relation to each other. This Working Paper focuses
on the state-led nationalism in this changing ideational environment between
the years 2012 and 2016, and how it has been received by the people.
end, the Working Paper will argue that the ethnic-civic dimensions are
insufficient in themselves to explain the nature of the contemporary state-led
nationalism in Russia, as the official discourse both blurs these boundaries
and creates new ones. President Vladimir Putin’s language simultaneously seeks
acceptance by the majority of the people and control over embodiments of ethnic
nationalisms. Hence, the state-led nationalism today leans on the narratives of
a nation that has a history of a multinational country where ethnic Russians
are still "first among equals”.
For a long
time, the Russian state has been shaping nationalism by portraying an image of
a united nation, held together by commonly shared culture, history, language
and values. These common denominators have remained the same, but the emphasis
has varied. Today, the cultural unity of Russians extends beyond the state’s
geographical and political borders, and the shared values are defined from
above in a more restricted manner. The official discourse aims at
distinguishing the Russian nation from other nations, but also at framing the
right ways to be Russian: morals and patriotism are prerequisites for belonging
to the nation. The conclusion of this paper is that despite being ethnically
inclusive at the level of discourse, the contemporary Russian nationalism
produced by the state leadership is exclusive in its demand for conservative,