Decolonize this: Freeing Russia from the Washington Foreign Policy Blob

*Warning: this post contains both irony and seriousness. If you would prefer a milder academic, please ask for one.*

PostRussia meets today in Washington, Philly, and New York.

They agreed on the territorial dismantling of Russia, but they are less certain on their own name, styling themselves variously ‘Northern Eurasia’, ‘PostRussia’, ‘FreeNationsRf’.

As a self-avowed decolonization movement of the Russian Federation, which you would assume meant a degree of indigeneity in its make-up, it’s ironic that it is funded by US military-industrial money, peopled by mainly Ukrainian public figures, a Lithuanian, a Tatar (the only member with decolonial credentials), and one Russian political consultant in employment with a Ukrainian political party.

A recent interview with their most media savvy rep was entitled:

‘Russian mentality comes from Great Horde’.

Personally, I’m not happy as a Kalugan resident to be assigned to the “Republic of Chernozemye-Yugorussiya”. For one thing the flag is really shit and the capital is Voronezh.

Regarding the conference in the US, there are some respected names*, which I guess leads me to reflect on my own public engagement in the last 12-or-more months which could be summarized as ‘speak less and with more discernment about one’s interlocutors as well as one’s knowledge claims’.

Looking at the programme with 60-or-so named speakers at the event there are many speakers claiming representative credentials for ethnic and geographic communities within the Russian Federation. However, among the many political scientists, journalists and activists there is not a single sociologist. Not a single researcher – as far as I can tell – who is qualified to speak about the potential or otherwise of Russian people themselves to engage with a process of post-colonial transition, let alone decolonization. Not a single person curious as to how to build civic capacity to assist in the ”peaceful and non-violent decolonization… [and] control the collapse” [sic].

In the words of Ilya B writing for Doxa a while ago: ‘Real change is possible only if “decolonization” becomes a process by which Russians rework their own self-consciousness, their past and present, whose imperial and chauvinistic foundations have largely led to today’s war’.

It would be useful for people who want to constructively engage in this debate to revisit the work of one of its leading scholars: Madina Tlostanova. (I will write about others another time)

Memorably she employed three phrases: Russia, the ‘second-class Empire’, engaged in ‘secondary orientalism’ as a result of its ‘secondary Eurocentrism’. The old propaganda myth of the Russian Empire (Russia as liberator) has been reworked – Russian elites today appropriate the decolonial agenda as a tool for criticizing the West. For Tlostanova, Russian Imperialism lives on and was always a European colonial project; communism is a distraction. Decolonization needs transverse, coalitional forms of governance, not a recreation of ethno-states. Tlostanova seems suspicious of the ‘internal colonization’ perspective and the idea that ethnic Russians comprise a subaltern subject.

Whether you agree with Tlostanova or not, it is hard to see how the Forum in Washington advances the decolonial agenda in Russia. Some of her writings from more than 10 years ago have a certain resonance:

 Russia’s complexity is a timebomb. The empire did not entirely disintegrate even today, continuing to impose its imperialist ideology onto the remaining colonies at the same time proclaiming a new nation-state image in its most reactionary, ethnic-nationalist form, multiplying internal racialized others with Russian citizenship yet no rights. Hyphenated identities are not really possible in Russia, as it does not even accept the western idea of the civil (not ethnic) nation, sliding more and more in the direction of biological racism and bubbled-up xenophobic constructs. The rotting ex-empire will finally disintegrate into smaller parts. Yet this will not help much, because the imperial difference does not generate anything promising, particularly given the specificity of Russian religious, political and cultural traditions. The looming completion of its disintegration as an empire would lead to even more chaos, bloodshed, and poverty for the population which simply had the misfortune of being born in this space, which still speaks a common language, but is no longer united spiritually or ideologically. [edited for length – original here]

This type of writing has a strong rhetorical effect today though there are numerous points Tlostanova makes that I and other scholars disagree on. Do you agree with her?

*It may well be that some representatives of indigenous peoples within Russia believe this is a worthwhile forum to advance their interests.

2 thoughts on “Decolonize this: Freeing Russia from the Washington Foreign Policy Blob

  1. Bohdan Khmelnytsky

    While I do agree that broad de-colonization in Russia is unlikely to happen soon (especially at the scale implied in Northern Eurasia 2023), it is worth noting that a large number of occupied peoples have done their best to liberate themselves from the Russians over the past ~100 years.

    Look at the map of the Russian empire in 1914 and the situation today. 16 countries have formally liberated themselves from the Russians, although unfortunately many are still arguably vassals. Not to mention Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia which are suffering from Russian occupation (and on-going war and ethnic cleansing in the case of Ukraine). Ichkeria was also independent for a brief period.

    It would help if western academics took a more critical attitude towards Russians’ deep and broad embrace of imperialism. You would think that Moldova 91, Chechnya I/II, Georgia 08 and Ukraine 2014- would be sufficient to make this a non-controversial statement.

    Personally I think “прекрасная россия будущего (ПБР)” (Great Russia of the Future – a slogan used by Russia’s “opposition” in exile) is way more funny than Northern Eurasia 2023. Totally happening any day now!

    I find the deep sociological analysis of ПБР supporters on how everyone in Russia is actually pro-democracy and anti-imperialism particularly insightful.



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