04/20/2024, 10.24
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The de-colonisation of Russia

by Stefano Caprio

The question of post-colonialism in Russia is the great underlying theme imposed by the Russian war in Ukraine. Behind the claims of the 'Russian world' are the aspirations of the many peoples who for centuries have been subjected to the imperial domination of different ideologies, from the Tsarist to the Soviet, and today by the Kirill-Putin Eurasian vision, which by taking on Ukraine has in fact uncovered the Pandora's box of all Russian history.


Mid-April saw the conclusion of the first course on the 'de-colonisation' of Russia, held online by professors from various parts of the world, in which dozens of 'students' and activists from the independence movements of Buryatia, Kalmykia, Udege (an indigenous people from south-eastern Siberia), Chechnya, Ingushetia, Karelia and many others participated.

The 'lecturers' include Ukrainian historian Sergyj Gromenko, Ukrainian culturologist Oksana Litvinenko, Polish dissident Petr Mintser, Russian-Ukrainian art historian Konstantin Akinša, American literary critic Eva Tompson, and various experts on the subject, such as Aleksandr Etkind (famous Soviet psychologist, later American culturologist) and Sergei Abašin, a Moscow anthropologist.

Among the organisers of the course is Russian philosopher Mikhail Judanin, who was born and raised in Novosibirsk in the centre of Siberia, then moved to Israel and then to America, where he teaches at the University of Georgia.

It is 'the other Russia' of which the Russian-Georgian writer Boris Akunin speaks, the one outside the borders, which, however, also plays an important role for those who live in Putin's imperial Russia and hope for a completely different reconstruction of 'all Russia' in the years to come.

The question of post-colonialism in Russia is the great underlying theme imposed by the Russian war in Ukraine, one of the contrary effects of the 'collective Putin's' delusions of grandeur.

Behind the pretensions of the 'Russian world' are the aspirations of the 'non-Russian world', of the many peoples who for centuries have been subjected to the imperial domination of different ideologies, from tsarist to Soviet, and today by the Kirill-Putin Eurasian vision, which by picking on Ukraine has in fact uncovered the Pandora's box of all Russian history.

No one can predict how the world war unleashed by the Kremlin will end, but many imagine that in place of the Russian Federation and its hundred regions, many different states may be created, some say ten and some fifty.

Out of 145 million citizens, there are at most 80 million Russians (of a very mixed ethnicity), and the rest range from Finno-Ugric to Caucasians, from Turanians to Mongols, passing through Eastern Europeans of various strains to the Chinese, who increasingly occupy the Far Eastern territories.

There has always been a confrontation between oppressed and oppressors in these lands, on a scale that is unparalleled in the world: if in the United States it is only today that guilt for the marginalisation of the natives by the settlers who arrived from Europe is emerging, in Russia from the very beginning the dominant people asserted itself at the expense of the minor ethnic groups, as the medieval chronicles narrate from the time of Kievan Rus'.

At that time, the choice of Byzantine baptism was the result of the confrontation between the Islam of the Bulgarians of Volga, the Judaism of the Khazars of the Caucasus and the Latin Catholicism of the nemtsy, the 'dumb' lacking the slovo, the 'word' of the Slavs, a term applied today to the Germans and which then referred to all Westerners.

However, these discarded variants, then opting for the 'great beauty' of Christianity of St Sophia in Constantinople, have always remained linked to Russia in the following centuries, later adding the Asian variants of the 'Tatar yoke' and the conquest of Siberia, between the end of the Middle Ages and the modern and contemporary centuries.


Colonialism, after all, is not an invention of the Russians; in fact, it is in a sense the real root of all Mediterranean and European empires and states, from the Greeks of Alexander the Great to the Romans of Julius Caesar, and then between the various attempts at translatio imperii of almost all European and American peoples.

Ancient Greece was looking for fertile land to cultivate, while in modern times the metropolises of the masters who control vast territories to exploit economically and control militarily are established, and Russia has remained in this sense in the variants of the second millennium.

Apart from the two Petersburg centuries of Western tendency, the dominance of the Eurasian capital of Moscow remains in Russia, another world compared to the rest of the country, and the Putin years have to a large extent revived this model: in Moscow, people live in luxury, peace and harmony, and the rest of the country and the world can only feed its pride, which is only partly shared with St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk and a few other metropolises.

According to Judanin, colonialism is produced 'not by the competition of traders, but when a brigand meets the businessman in the yard, smashes his head with a pole and steals all his money... colonisation is an effect of the use of force'.

Then, over time, the colonisers began to believe that they deserved the dominant position because of some particular quality of theirs, and thus "the myth of the world hierarchy of peoples was born, believing it normal and legitimate that those who hold the rifle should rule over those who only have the bow and arrow", as in the narrative of the American Far West and before that the Siberian Far East, where the Cossacks already represented in the 16th century what would be the cowboys of the 19th century, and today are the Russian armies in Ukraine.

The rhetoric of the 'superior fighters', after all, has fuelled the ferocity of the various invading squads, from the Wagner Company of the 'roast cook' Evgenij Prigožin to the Akhmat Division of the Chechens, under the orders of the Caucasian settler Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin heroes of the 'special operation'.

The philosopher explains that 'colonial economics always goes hand in hand with various forms of racism', such as the obligation imposed on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to cultivate only cotton, to the exclusion of all other crops, which even today imposes slave harvests to which students from these countries are forced.

The subdivision of production sectors was a project that had already begun during the tsarist empire, and was then perfected by the Soviet regime to realise the 'participation of the peoples' in the great project of universal socialism, without thinking of the disastrous consequences on the ecology of the whole of Central Asia and other territories. It is no coincidence that today, the Uzbeks, Turkmen and Tajiks organise huge 'weaving festivals' to make up for centuries-old humiliations, when the harvested cotton was taken to Belarus to compose the 'masterpieces' of which Asians were deemed incapable.

To justify their colonial vision, today the Russians find old arguments and imagine new ones.

Russia has always had a complex to work out, that of being a landlocked empire, envying the British, Spanish, Dutch and other dominions that spanned the oceans; in the current war in Ukraine, more than the Donbass the Russians were interested in the Crimea (a place that has always been symbolic) and the shores of the Black Sea, and more than the conquest of Kiev they are trying to reach Odessa, to then impose themselves as far as the Mediterranean.

Another dream that heralds future catastrophes is that of the control of the Arctic Ocean, which with global warming is less and less glacial, and could free up new 'colonies' to conquer; after all, since the seventeenth century, the Russians had crossed the Bering Strait to conquer Alaska, reaching as far as California then sold to the Americans, in a short circuit of the empires of East and West.

According to the classic approaches of Russian colonialism, today revived by the idea of the Orthodox 'Russian world', Russia does not oppress minor peoples, rather it protects them and makes them grow in economic, cultural and religious integration.

In the recent Nakaz, the decree of the World Council inspired by Patriarch Kirill, the importance of the work of the Orthodox Church is emphasised even in relations with Islam, Buddhism and other local religions as far as Asian shamanism, which thanks to patriarchal Christianity are assimilated into the great patriotic sobornost, the education of peoples in defence against invasions and heresies.

Resistance to Western 'moral degradation', the spiritual motive of the war in Ukraine, exalts the superiority of the 'traditional values' proclaimed by the patriarch also for other religions, being 'universal values' that Russians have the right and duty to affirm at all latitudes.

Colonisation becoming evangelisation, ecumenical sobornost of de-Nazification and Russification, these are the refrains of Russia's imperial renaissance.

Another term used in Soviet times was korenizatsija (from koren = root), an ethnic policy imposed under Stalin, the Georgian dictator who wanted to be more Russian than the Russians, even though he spoke with a strong Caucasian accent.

At that time, anti-religious ideology was in force, and instead of metropolitans and muftis, party secretaries and high officials joined in to form an elite of 'new men' of Soviet nationality and no longer tied to blood origins.

Today, however, the 'roots' no longer seem to have the fertile soil of the ancient colonies, and the many peoples of Eurasia are less and less able to tolerate the imperial dictatorship of the Russians: after having invaded the Ukraine and threatened the other countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Siberia and the whole of Asia, there is the risk that Russia will be forced to invade itself, leaving only the possibility of self-colonisation.



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Wars, world order, synodality: Putin's friends and the 'just multipolarity'
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The ecumenism of imperial Russia and the 'threats' from East and West
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