Putinism under Siege: on the nationalist-democratic alliance

Journal of Democracy has just published a special issue on ‘Putinism under Siege‘ with contributions from Lilia Shevtsova, Ivan Krastev & Stephen Holmes, Denis Volkov, Sharon Wolchik and I. My piece is on The Strange Alliance of Democrats and Nationalists .

The article looks at three broad themes:

1) How Russian nationalism is evolving from an expansionist, Eurasian, and imperial version into something that is primarily anti-immigrant, defensive and sometimes non-expansionist.

2) How nationalists started to adopt some pro-democracy rhetoric in the belief that a more democratic system based on majority-rule would make state policies closer to their policy prescriptions.

3) How some Russian democrats sometimes entered into ad hoc alliances with nationalist groups on an anti-Putinist platform, but also how a much deeper fusion of democratic and nationalist views starts to be espoused by various political players. This phenomenon is still in its early stages, but could be a sign of things to come.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the essay:

‘Over the last few years, the traditional expansionist nationalism has been losing ground to a newer breed of isolationist, insular, and defensive nationalism that is primarily xenophobic and hostile to immigrants. This strain of nationalism is focused more on maintaining Russia’s “Russianness” than on territorial expansion. The key source of defensive nationalism is the toxic mix of high immigration into Russia coupled with a demographic crisis among native-born ethnic Russians. Home to more than twelve-million  non-Russians, Russia is the world’s second leading destination for immigrants (after the United States).’

‘Defensive Russian nationalism is at its core the fruit of flagging confidence in Russia’s power to expand and assimilate its periphery, particularly the culturally distant Muslim populations of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Such nationalism is primarily concerned with shielding Russia, not enlarging it. Traditional expansionist nationalists were ready to “die for the Caucasus” rather than see it leave the Russian fold. The new nationalists, by contrast, want to “stop feeding the Caucasus,” and see the region as a burden that Russia should unload.’

The evolution of Russian nationalism today is not unlike that of other European nationalisms that mutated from the expansionist-imperial mission civilisatrice of a century ago into the defensive “fortress Europe” nationalism of recent decades. Perhaps the representative embodiment of this evolution is Jean-Marie Le Pen (b. 1928), former leader of the far-right National Front in France. He began his political career in the late 1950s fighting to keep Algeria in France and ended it in the 2000s campaigning to keep Algerians (and other migrants) out of France.

Here is the FULL TEXT of the essay