Underside | | Utenriksdepartementet
During the period of perestroika, Russian use of spatial terms in politics shifted away from a Leninist understanding and appeared to change to correspond to Western use. At the same time, the specific Russian setting made for real differences to remain substantial. Notably, the wider span of legitimate political views in Russia made assumptions of direct comparability problematic. Moreover, the process in which the meaning of political terms had changed continued.
Essential in this development in the way in which ‘democracy’, being identified closely with the Yeltsin regime, from 1991-92 onwards became widely discredited. In conceptual terms, one consequence of this is that ‘democrats’ today are normally seen as belonging only to a narrow segment of the Russian political spectrum (whereas in the West all legitimate actors would normally describe themselves as democrats), and that segment is invariably placed on the Right. In political terms, a significant consequence is a renewed enthusiasm in the public for authoritarian programs.
By showing that authoritarianism is a characteristic of the Russian Left, this report has a bearing on the Western academic debate where some still insist that authoritarianism should be seen only as a trait of the Right. Russia has a tradition for authoritarianism, and a wide array of actors currently display inclinations in this direction.
Furthermore, this report has shown how the ideas of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are scarcely sufficient to categorize political directions in Russia. While the report argues that placement along such a spectrum in practice is assumed to include score on a number of variables – positions come in ‘clusters’ – it also identifies several phenomena characteristic to Russian politics that call for a modification of such an image. Consequently, this report has not aimed to ‘plot’ actors in different positions in a spectrum or some other model. This is at the same time a very simple and a very difficult thing to do.
In spite of these reservations, we may draw some important conclusions on basis of the discussion in the second main section of the report:
In the first main section, I argued that the case of Russia defies the theoretical position that authoritarianism is a trait only of the right. In the second section, a major argument is that nationalism may strike anywhere in the Russian landscape. Introducing this section, I argued that expressions of Russian nationalist sentiment may be placed in one of four different categories. The categories form as two dimensions meet; territorial orientation (core vs. empire), and ethnic vs. statist focus. I also assumed that the most extreme category of the four – defined by its potential to cause conflict – is one that combines territorial expansionism with ethnic supremacism. This assumption should be modified somewhat: Ethnic supremacism is not a dominant trait of most expressions of Russian nationalism. At the same time, however, intolerance is widespread both in politics and in the public, expressed above all as anti-Semitism and in anti-Caucasian attitudes. Similarly, the discussion of the ‘new patriotism’, by pointing to historical parallels and to the authoritarianism it presupposes, also suggests that not only clear-cut supremacist-expansionist nationalist has the potential to cause conflict.
The forces that are normally spoken of as being on the Left, are no less nationalist than those on the Right. More than that, an actor who is generally considered not to be radical either on the Left or the Right, may still represent quite radical nationalist positions. Whereas the so-called ‘national-patriots’ distinguish themselves by their emphasis on nationalist issues, and by the radicalism of their (varying mixes of) territorial aspirations and ethnic supremacism, they are not alone as being nationalists. For instance, we have seen how the ‘centrist’ Yuriy Luzhkov has made quite aggressive initiatives towards Ukraine and the Baltic states. And we have seen Gennadiy Zyuganov and other prominent politicians of the KPRF – a party supported by almost a fourth of Russia's voters, and related to as fully legitimate in Russian politics – express potentially combustible ideas, including Soviet restorationalism and crude anti-Semitism.
As for the linguistic confusion over terms relating to political distance, the ambition with this report has not been to suggest another model. Hopefully, however, it has pointed to essential aspects defining the Russian political landscape.
Maps are for navigation. As always, the best way to make sure that we on the right track is to look up every now and then and check the map against the landscape.