Russian: Back to empire or forward to the self-determination of nations?

Language
English
Date
05/05/2022
Author
Ilya Matveev
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Everyone knows that four empires ended their existence as a result of World War I: the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and German empires. The 20th century was basically the century of the end of empires and the self-determination of nations. Of the four defeated empires, two were completely gone, one attempted revenge in 1933, but was finally defeated.

And only one did not collapse, but maintained territorial integrity, paradoxically integrating the principle of self-determination of nations while maintaining a powerful centralized state. In this sense, the USSR was a historical anomaly on the map of Europe. It continued to exist in the second half of the twentieth century, when the colonial empires of European countries ended their existence. Of course, the USSR was not an empire in the classical sense, precisely because it preserved and developed national and cultural autonomy of the Soviet republics and supported anti-colonial and post-colonial movements around the world. But for all that, it continued to exist essentially within the boundaries of pre-revolutionary Russia. The U.S., the world hegemon after 1945, invented a new kind of international power not based on the principle of territoriality.

However, the USSR, almost the only one in the world, continued to practice territorial imperial power. In this sense, Russia’s 1918 came only in 1991. This is why we are now witnessing post-imperial convulsions, similar to the period of the Third Reich, transferred to another epoch - another century due to a strange dislocation of history! Hence the inexplicable archaism of Russian official ideology, and of the war of aggression which Russia is trying to wage, and the super-conflicting attitude to the USSR, when the principle of self-determination of nations advocated by Lenin is declared the main evil and “a bomb against statehood”, but at the same time tanks go into attack under red flags, and the main propaganda symbol is a granny with the same Soviet flag; the Soviet Union itself was also controversial.

What does this dislocation mean for the future of Russia? Will it, in principle, be able to survive at least within the 1991 borders, having made the way to a “normal” nation-state through democratization, demilitarization, and national repentance, just like Germany? Or will it continue to fight the very principle of self-determination of nations together with China, “retraining” the Uighurs in Xinjiang, returning the world back to the 19th century? Time will tell, but one thing is certain: the fate of Russia and the world is indeed at stake, as official propaganda claims. But despite the revisionist efforts of Russia and China, the self-determination of nations is still more important than imperialist ambitions. And judging by the course of the war, this principle still prevails over imperialism.