“Nation” and “Civilization” as Templates for Russian Identity Construction: A Historical Overview
In recent decades the term “civilization” has reached beyond academic and intellectual discourses as a category of identity construction and policy description. In the Russian case, the civilizational talk demonstrates a specific dialectic of domestic and foreign policy aspects. Since the 1990s, the concept of “civilization” has been used increasingly for descriptions of post-Soviet Russian identity in academic and public discourses. It has also penetrated into political rhetoric. In particular, it played an important role in re-interpretation of the Soviet historical narrative by the post-Soviet Communists. In the 2000s an evident rehabilitation of the imperial legacy in the Russian public discourse facilitated its further proliferation. The author of the chapter agrues that the attractiveness of the concept of “civilization” in the Russian case grounds on the symbolic resources that took shape over time. Two aspects of the historical tradition are particularly important here. The first is Russia’s imperial legacy. It involves a competition of different nationalisms which impedes a consolidation of the multiethnic nation. At the same time it provides cultural and symbolic resources that tempt to use a sub-national / civilizational template. The second is long tradition of constructing the Russian identity through correlation with Europe/the “West” that produced a rich repertoire of ideas, symbols and narratives facilitating its representation in civilizational terms. The chapter explores the general historical patterns of discursive construction of the Russian/Soviet identity focusing on the ideas of nation and civilization as competing templates of imagination. It demonstrates that the disposition of contemporary ruling elite to use both national and civilizational terms for description of post-Soviet Russian identity is a result of a long tradition of its construction by mixed templates, without fully fitting to neither one.