By Paul Goble
The Moscow Patriarchate’s advocacy of a dress code for all Russians is at one level simply an absurdity, but at another it is evidence of “a very strong tendency” in Russia “toward the establishment of a proto-fascist regime masked under the name of sovereign democracy,” according to a senior Moscow scholar.
Indeed, Sergey Arutyunov, a specialist on the North Caucasus, argues, Russia is moving toward a system “in essence no less totalitarian than Mussolini’s regime in Italy or with certain qualifications (let us say, without anti-Semitism or perhaps even with a revived anti-Semitism) Hitler’s regime in Germany (grani.ru/blogs/free/entries/185488.html).
That trend is “natural,” he argues, because “the situation in [Russia] recalls that in the Weimar Republic on the eve of the fascists’ coming to power. The very same factors, the very same attitudes in society, and the very same perspectives,” including the risky behavior and ultimate catastrophe Russia would suffer if “adventurists playing at fascism came to power.”
“I do not want to call Mr. Chaplin [the Patriarchate official who proposed a dress code for the country] a fascisizing adventurist,” Arutyunov says. “In the final analsys, what he is proposing is a petty detail,” but his words are part of a general trend toward “an all-embracing adventurism” which is increasingly infecting and informing Russian society.
Dress codes by themselves are not the problem, the ethnographer continues. It is the attitude behind them and the attempt to extend them beyond the reaches of “closed aristocratic clubs” that is. As for himself, Arutyunov continues, “I never observe dress codes” and consider “any attempt to impose a dress code a crude violation of my freedoms and human rights.”
But there is another, more serious recent attempt to impose uniformity, Arutyunov says, which points in a similarly unfortunate direction. That involves President Dmitry Medvedev’s effort to play up the role of the ethnic Russian nation in violation of the Constitution and against the rights of other ethnic communities.
“The Russian Federation,” Arutyunov points out, “is a federative state, and formally its foundation is not in the state forming role of the Russian people but in a federal treaty which now [some] are trying to forget” and to redefine what the Constitution says the Russian Federation in fact is.
“An attempt somehow to stress the role of the Russian people among the other peoples of the Russian Federation, to somehow divide it out in a special way is,” Arutyunov says, “in essence also an attempt in the spirit of national socialism” in much the same way that the Russian Orthodox Churchman’s call for a dress code is.
“Perhaps,” the Moscow scholar continues, “it is not explicitly expressed in that way, and this hardly was among the intentions of Mr. Medvedev,” who, Arutyunov says, he does not “in any case consider a national socialist” and someone who “must understand” that playing with such ideas or appearing to support them will lead to disaster for the Russian people.
What is needed instead, Arutyunov continues, is a constant stress on the “multi-national” nature of “the Russian political nation.” Doing that does not mean to deny “the leading role of the Russian people in this task.” To do so or to act as if the Chukchi role was equivalent to the Russian one would be laughable.
“But the task of the state,” the Moscow ethnographer argues, “is to seek to ensure that the extent of the functioning of the Chukchi language does not decline but rather grows … in order that Chukchi culture does not decay but develops in correspondence with the norms of civilized society.”
Arutyunov notes that “comparatively recently,” the leadership in the US reached the same conclusion about minorities in American society as the Moscow scholar at the opportunity to observe when he was on an academic exchange in California.
In the bus he regularly rode between San Jose and San Francisco, he recalls, there were signs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, a reflection of the new reality that in Silicon Valley, “there are many Latin Americans and that in the city of San Jose alongside them there is a large community of Vietnamese immigrants.”
“In this (and not only in this) concern is expressed about the development of the Vietnamese and Latin American components of American society is expressed. [And] in this is manifested the spirit of genuine democracy, even though many WASPs in the US, Arutyunov says, find these arrangements disturbing.
Within the Russian Federation, he continues, “the prestige of the non-Slavic nations is falling,” a development which he calls “a tendency toward entropy” and “a threat to our common well-being.” And Arutyunov concludes that “it would be wise” to promote more use of these languages by giving officials who know them a five-percent supplement.