I once promised myself I would never use a clichéd headline such as the one I just used, but, people, the day has come when there’s finally reason to.
Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, has announced that it’s time to add a new term to the geopolitical lexicon: a “country of the Russian world.” Kirill did not give an example of such a country, but defined the Russian world as a place where Russian is the lingua franca, where Russian culture thrives, and where there is a shared Russian historical memory.
Of course, it shouldn’t be very hard to think of specific examples, since this sounds a lot like the hegemonic reaches of first the Russian and then the Soviet empires. (This is also a clear a set-up for tomorrow’s vaguely-named holiday, Day of Unity, as well as for next year’s march of the nationalities.)
But then there’s the problem of, well, people with their own cultures that used Russian because they had to, or had Russian culture foisted on them. For example, there are the Baltic states, once part of both empires and Russian-speaking but who now discriminate against Russians and tear down all remnants of Russian history there. Do they count? How about Slovakia or Eastern Germany? People once spoke Russian there, too, after all. And what about the Caucusus? Or, heck, some states within the Russian Federation, like Chechnya, which have very distinctive non-Russian cultures that were only recently — and dubiously — appeased. Do they count as part of this Russian world?
As for what “Russian culture” and “Russian history” even mean in a country that is home to hundreds of distinct — and ethnically non-Russian — nationalities, well, that’s a discussion for another time. This is more about the current Russian political obsession with unity and wholeness, propagated by Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov as a hedge against 1990s-style cha0s — and, of course, loss of the current clique’s power. In recent years, the Russian Orthodox church has been a key player in creating that myth. Its central tenet is a common meta-historical destiny that needs protection from hostile anti-Russian forces crouching around Great Russia’s borders.
And this myth is, of course, nothing new. Thus the headline.