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Patriotism as a National Idea Is a Long-Awaited Break with Russian Tradition

At its core patriotism is belief in the right to exist as a nation - something that the Western European 'value' system has totally lost

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The author is a prominent Russian journalist, part-time conservative politician, who coined the term “Russian Spring” during the 2014 anti-putsch movements in the Crimea and Donbas.

The Russian President recently said patriotism is a Russian national ideal. But Russia is a country of paradoxes: pro-Western ideology has been a no less important but much more powerful ideology than patriotism. Westerners thought Russia didn’t have the right to exist as an independent nation. Our only job was to self-destruct by dissolving into the West.  

Several hundred years ago, patriotism was not an obvious idea in Russia. The political class was divided into radical Westernizers and cowardly ones. Radical Westernizers thought, and still think, that Russia should be occupied by a foreign country. Cowardly ones suggest that if Russia can’t be destroyed quickly for historical reasons, they will do so by slowly erasing its identity. 

The conflict between pro-Westerners and Patriots is not a conflict over liberty and progress, it’s about whether a Russian identity is possible and appropriate. 

A patriot is someone who is convinced of Russia’s independent historical role. Amazingly, among both Russian intellectuals and bureaucrats they were a minority in the XIX and the XX centuries, forced to stick together in small, close-knit groups, using intrigue to at  least partially limit the power of the pro-Western bureaucracy and bypass the influence of the almighty opinion factory.

Russian patriotism has always had be doubly defensive: against external enemies on behalf of the state, and against those who called patriotism silly and were ready to “open the gates to the enemy’.

Patriotism in Russia is not just love for  one's homeland among dozens of other homelands, as in de Gaulle’s ‘Europe of Nations’. That Europe has been trampled under Brussels’ bureaucracy, their boots from Austrian stores on the feet of the new nomads. There is no longer a Europe where they can be ‘patriots” in the way Westerners used to understand it.

Being a Russian patriot means to recognize a special historic destiny, rejecting the Western ‘values’ that are programming all those who accept to self-destruct. Being a Russian patriot means affirming its civilizational and geopolitical self-identity, to prevent its dissolution in any imaginary community, as well as its decline.

Being a Russian patriot means to grow and strengthen its economic, cultural and historical identity to the max, maintaining its daily customs and achievements, to make it completely independent economically from a world that grows sanctions and increases threats. 

Being a Russian patriot means to counter the pilfering and disintegration of Russia’s language and culture.

When people say the Russian national idea is patriotism, they are ready to join those who fight for it, despite the enduring pro-Western bias of Russian elites yearning for a small house somewhere to the north-east of Honduras, and ready to resist.

But there is also reason for hope. At the heart of any national identity is a lifestyle that is about belonging. Attempts to create an attractive image of the Russian lifestyle was discredited with far more persistence than the Russian state or religion. A Russian could be a loyal subject and a good soldier, but he had to look like a gentleman, ride in a coach, eat steak and have a mistress. Russianness was poverty, stupidity and clumsiness.

The casual European with his gadgets and sneakers has sucked us in and is ready to throw us up in the colors of the various ‘rainbows’.

But the break with the West caused by the annexation of Crimea and the Donbass war, had amazing domestic consequences: Patriotism is no longer a bureaucratic declaration for external use and doesn’t reduce itself to a tragically hopeless struggle.

Today, patriotism is an opportunity to be.

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