In November, IMR researcher Boris Bruk visited the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Virginia Tech, where he delivered three lectures focusing on Russian politics and foreign affairs.

 

 

The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of guest lectures launched in September 2014. In November, IMR researcher Boris Bruk delivered two lectures at the University of Michigan as part of a course in comparative constitutional law and the Russian Law Workshop. Ekaterina Mishina, an assistant professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, visiting professor at the University of Michigan, and IMR contributor, participated in the discussion, which took place after the lecture. The third lecture was delivered for members of Virginia Tech’s international studies program. All of these lectures addressed the issues of patriotism and nationalism in modern Russia.

According to Bruk, since the early 2000s, the Russian authorities have actively promoted the notion of patriotism with the goals of “saving” Russia from Western ideology, consolidating society, and restoring national pride. This practice is rooted in Soviet times, when patriotism (which is viewed as Russia’s “traditional value”) was expected to become an anchor of citizens’ political thinking.

In today’s Russia, the state has a monopoly on identifying collective values and their essence. According to the official narrative, these values include the ideals of a “great power.” The Russian state rejects the ideology of liberal democracy, which is viewed as “alien” to Russia, and maintains that the country must follow its own, unique path. Within this context, patriotism is considered an antonym of liberalism.

As Bruk pointed out in his lectures, for a while, the Russian public tried to distance itself from the official version of patriotism. However, with the development of the Ukraine crisis and the strengthening of the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign, the situation has changed. In particular, as shown by the surveys conducted by the Levada Center as part of IMR’s " Faces of Russian Patriotism" project, within a relatively short period of time, the number of Russians sharing the opinion that “a patriot must support the authorities in power under any circumstances” has increased. At the same time, the number of citizens supporting the statement “One can criticize the authorities and at the same time be a patriot” has dropped.

According to Bruk, a disturbing tendency can be observed in Russian public opinion: the understandings of patriotism and negative nationalism (i.e., xenophobia and general intolerance) have become increasingly blurred. As IMR research studies show, before the Ukraine crisis, a patriotism hike in Russia was often accompanied by an increase in xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes. However, the Ukrainian crisis pushed interethnic and migrant problems into the background as the focus shifted to other subjects such as Ukrainian “fascists” and the West. Today’s public consolidation around the Kremlin’s policies is based on the principle of “us vs. them.” People widely believe that the authorities are ensuring the protection of Russia, which is viewed as a “besieged fortress.”

After the lectures, Bruk participated in Q&A sessions with the audience. Many questions were related to the development of the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s domestic and foreign policy priorities, and perspectives on improving the relationship between Russia and the United States.

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IMR team

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