The imperial syndrome and its influence on Russian nationalism
How to explain the continued presence of the imperial legacy in the political life of Russia, and its impact on Russian nation- alism? This has been a focus of my research for more than a decade (Pain 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012). The combination of Russian nationalism and imperial consciousness is conducive to the development of a special phenomenon in Russia that may be called ‘imperial nationalism’. That term may sound odd, at least to those within the Western academic tradition who are accustomed to examining nationalism as one of the factors con- fronting empires, as a factor involved in destroying the imperial system, but, in the Russian setting, an imperial nationalism that supports imperial aspirations really does exist, and has appeared more than once – recently manifesting itself boldly after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. The second decade of the 2000s had begun with political events that – it seemed to many – augured the replacement of imperial nation- alism by a new (for Russia) anti-imperial Russian nationalism (Milov 2010; Russkii svet n.d.). Such hopes increased with the rise of the democratic opposition movement and the participa- tion of Russian nationalists in the political protests that began in December 2011. The subsequent defeat of this new, anti- government, anti-Soviet Russian nationalism once again prompts re ection on the reasons for the stability of the imperial com- ponent in Russian nationalism – and, indeed, in contemporary Russian society as a whole.
In this chapter I take up some fundamental theoretical problems raised by such scholars as Sergei Gavrov (2004), Alexander Motyl (2004), Dominic Lieven (2005), Mark Beissinger (2005) and Egor Gaidar (2006) as a kind of extended conversation. These are pri- marily questions about the essence of empire, and the reasons for the reproduction or preservation of some imperial characteristics in the politics of post-Soviet Russia since the turn of the millen- nium. Here I propose a new theoretical construct – the ‘imperial syndrome’. The bulk of the chapter focuses on the speci c charac- teristics of the evolution of the idea of the nation and nationalism in Russia, from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twenty- rst. Why did the European idea of the nation, which appeared in Russia in uenced by the French Revolution, subsequently turn into an anti-Western concept of imperial nation- alism? I also ask why the new, anti-imperial Russian nationalism in the end turned out to be so weak, as became evident after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The chapter ends with an analysis of the political prospects for Russian nationalism.