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July 22, 2005 by AK

Russian liberal observer Leonid Radzikhovsky writes:

If taken to extremes, Russian society’s response to its wrenching modernization could degenerate into a nationalist revolution led by xenophobes. A different and healthy conservative response is possible if the tattered remnants of old threads, torn apart in the course of postcommunist modernization, can reconnect and grow together in a new way.

I think I know what the guy means, and I more or less agree. Except that I am a nationalist and a xenophobe myself.

I am a nationalist because I want a Russian political nation to emerge at last.

I am a xenophobe because I do not want Russia to be swamped by unassimilable immigrants. I am also against guest workers’ taking jobs that, with the right economic policies, would go to native-born Russians.

I am also a nativist because I am in favor of citizenship laws that would allow people whose ancestors lived in Russia to regain Russian citizenship if they so choose. That would be much like the right of ethnic Germans to return to Germany but the new potential citizens would include not only ethnic Russians but also Tatars, Jews, Armenians, etc.

I understand the risks and dangers of interethnic violence in Russia, which is one of the reasons I oppose immigration patterns that would exacerbate interethnic tensions.

I do not dispute that most immigrants and guest workers may be honest and hard-working. On a personal level, I deeply respect some of them. But other countries’ experience tells us to beware of their children.

I insist that all discussions of immigration be linked to limited economic opportunity for Russians outside of its large cities and oil/gas/metals towns, which is partly due to poor labor mobility. By virtue of the fact that Russia’s big cities are ethnically more diverse than the country average, ethnic Russians along with various disadvantaged minorities are overrepresented in the less fortunate rest of the country This is a huge, chronic problem.

I expect that, in order to enter the era of PC and rights for minorities, Russia will have to go through an era of un-PC and rights for the majority. As it was growing into the world’s greatest economy, the United States remained, by today’s standards, terribly xenophobic, nationalistic and racist.

What is the difference between me and the “xenophobes and nationalists” Radzikhovsky is scared of? It could be that I see non-imperial nationalism (“the birth of a nation”) as a pre-requisite for liberty, and they vie for imperial greatness. Anyway, a “healthy conservative response” should not be contrasted with xenophobia. Healthy conservatism has to be mildly xenophobic: “do not trust strangers.”

But — there’s a big “but” here — an extremely ugly ultra-ethnonationalist revolution of the “kill the Jews” variety is still possible. It is precisely the type of revolt that Putin would be happy to put down — and emerge the Protector of All That Is Good.


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