Andrey Zorin: ''I don’t think the word ''Russians'' sounds bad''

Historian speaks about the tradition of erecting monuments to Katherine II and Ivan the Terrible, state ideology and totalitarianism of banned ISIS

In an interview to Realnoe Vremya, Russian expert in literature and historian Andrey Zorin frankly told his opinion about the recreation of the state ideology. He also saw a crisis of Islam after the appearance of еру totalitarian ideology of DAESH (banned in Russia).

''History is the main part of state ideology''

Ideology, which is important in modern Russian, is the key topic of your report in Kazan…

Ideology has been actively imposed in our country from the top in recent years. Another thing is that those people who are imposing it don't have a clear idea of what it is yet (probably Thank God). But we are seeing an attempt to impose a state ideology. Another thing is that it is called differently because at the moment the Constitution forbids announcement of an ideology as state. In reality, this policy is carried out. Luckily, it is not very consecutive and systematic. It has holes, niches and spaces that can be occupied.

''I did an illustrative, not a scientific, experiment in Moscow near the monument to Engels, which is close to Kropotkinskaya metro station. I asked passers-by whose monument it was. It turned out the majority of people believe it is a monument to Kropotkin because it is close to Kropotkinskaya metro station. People don't see monuments, they don't pay attention to them because they don't play any role in life.'' Photo: oganiok.livejournal.com

The topic of the erection of monuments to celebrated people is raising many questions in the society. Now monuments to Ivan the Terrible, Katherine II, Stalin are actively erected across the country. The society doesn't have a clear attitude towards them.

Monument is a complicated thing. People speak about it when it is erected. Then they stop paying attention to them; monuments are not seen in the urban space, we don't notice them. I did an illustrative, not a scientific, experiment in Moscow near the monument to Engels, which is close to Kropotkinskaya metro station. I asked passers-by whose monument it was. It turned out the majority of people believe it is a monument to Kropotkin because it is close to Kropotkinskaya metro station. People don't see monuments, they don't pay attention to them because they don't play any role in life. Monuments become topical in the conscience of the society in three cases: first of all, when they are erected, secondly, when they are removed, thirdly, when people arrange a meeting near them. It is called a landmark. But the moment of erection is an ideological sign. Monuments to Ivan the Terrible and Stalin are clear things, of course. Who is interested in Ivan the Terrible in itself? Nobody knows nothing about Ivan the Terrible – his kingdom is hidden in the fog. Ask a modern-age person supporting the erection of the monument of Ivan the Terrible about his good sides – nobody knows. Murders are the advantage of him in the eyes of those who support the erection of the monument. He doesn't have another merit. The monument to him is erected just because he massively killed, stole and violated.

Where does such love for monuments come from in modern Russia?

Monuments are a crystallisation of historical meanings. But today's general craziness about monuments is illustrative. I think a country's obsession with history, which it knows bad, and fascination with historical problems demonstrates that it doesn't have a project of the future.

Is it preoccupation about past events and facts?

Yes, because history is the main part of state ideology. If we ask propagandists what it is, they will say we need to return our traditional values, appreciate our history and develop it… It is unknown what we need to develop and how. A country with its turned neck that doesn't see and is afraid of its own future is the most important thing. First of all, I am not speaking about the people in general, of course, but about the elite and political administration and experts. They are afraid of the future more. There is a feeling that not only by the West, which always was a starting point of Russia in its previous history, but also by Asian countries, etc. inevitably lose the competition. We are falling behind. The history, geography and the size of the country, of course, are the only things we can count on. The history and our great discoveries take first place.

What do you think about the Russian nation?

The problem is that nowadays there is not a common understanding of what nation is. The Russian language has two words – people and nation – that are considered differently. We understand a nation like an ethnicity and people like a society: ordinary people, not ordinary people, etc. In general, it is an idea of Romanticism: there is a nation as an ethnic or organic entity that has its own soul, which is a collective personality. This idea was created at the end of the 18 th century against traditional empires, absolute monarchies, etc. The idea was the basis of the political democracy because a nation is a single personality. Its unity is more important than inner barriers, it chooses its representatives, etc. The combination of nationality or ethnicity with empire is another thing.

There is another understanding of a nation, which is, all in all, democratic. Nation is a contractual community. They are people united in a state to solve problems. There is an organic meaning of a nation: soil, customs, traditions, language, etc. Contractual nation is about the people who must obey a constitution and the formulation in the preamble of the American Constitution: we gathered, we established themselves as a political nation regardless of the ethnicity of the people who are in it.

After the dissolution of the USSR, Russians are Russia's ethnic majority. Nevertheless, the country still has many ethnicities and religions. Quasi-state establishments based on ethnicity remained. The Republic of Tatarstan is one of them. This is why there is a question what the Russian nation (Rossiiskaya) means as Russian state, what Russian nation (Russkaya) means as ethnicity, how to correlate them, etc. I don't think the word ''Russians'' sounds bad. In my opinion, it is a legal concept. Russians are those people who live in the Russian Federation and accept the Russian Constitution. Nobody is trying already and won't impose other peoples an ethnicity and culture of another one.



''F or the president's press secretary, it is strange to announce an era that ended with revolution, civil war and murder of the head of the country ideal.'' Photo: aif.ru

Nothing repeats, analogues don't work out, nothing ever copies the way it was

Peskov recently said Nikolai II's Russia was the ideal of power.

Did he? I did not see these words. I find it is difficult to comment them. If he said it, it is out of line because we know the outcome of Nikolay II's reign. We know what it brought to: it brought to the collapse of the statehood, revolution, civil war. In other words, his reign resulted in his murder together with his family, and the country he headed stopped existing. For the president's press secretary, it is strange to announce an era that ended with revolution, civil war and murder of the head of the country ideal.

''Speaking about the feeling before the war, it is likely to be like the period before WWI. WWII participants understood why they entered that horrible bloody terror. Nobody wanted WWI: no political leader imagined what he was dealing with.'' Photo: fototelegraf.ru

Some people say the atmosphere in the world on WWII's eve was similar. What do you think about this opinion?

The analogy is relative. It is clear that the world is going through a great transformation. Many institutions were abolished and are in crisis not only in Russia. I am not sure whether it is similar to the situation before WWII. I don't see any similarity because there was a gigantic expansionary ideology of the German Fascism, first of all, which required a space for life of Aryans and submersion of lower races. I don't see an analogue now. Speaking about the feeling before the war, it is likely to be like the period before WWI. WWII participants understood why they entered that horrible bloody terror. Nobody wanted WWI: no political leader imagined what he was dealing with. It began because political elites lost a contact with the reality. They did not see the changes taking place in the society. So they were involved in a thing they were not going to be involved in. If now we are going to have a big confrontation, it is likely to resemble it, though I think that the presence of weapons of mass destruction must restrict people somehow. Probably convulsions have already begun. Anyway, I am not expecting a world war. As a person who has grandchildren, it is difficult to imagine.

''A new totalitarian ideology is in the Syrian conflict''

Some people consider the war in Syria as an analogue of events of the Civil War in Spain. What is your opinion?

As for Syria: I don't understand well what's happening there. I would not consider it as an analogue of the Civil War in Spain because the Civil War in Spain was a place of confrontation of two very offensive, expansionary ideologies: fascism and communism that met in one country as if it had been a place of a future conflict. Some difficult different conflict of Islamic movements is taking place in Syria. A new totalitarian ideology expressed in the activity of the Islamic State is in this conflict. It probably illustrates the crisis of Islam as a religion because the situation when people appoint prophets themselves and start as a leader of the Islamic State (like bin Laden before), hand out fatwahs looks non-traditional… Who are they? Who gave him power? The very fact that somebody can make such statements at will and they have some followers shows that the very religious community is going through a powerful crisis whose nature I don't dare to judge. Somebody said it is the same thing as if Lenin had issued encyclicals in the name of the Catholic Church. Leaders of the Islamic State can tell something with the same foundation.

It is the extreme degree of sectarianism.

Yes, it is sectarianism, of course. There are always many crazy people. Not always this craziness has such an influence and so many followers. I don't understand what great Russia is doing in Syria. I am not an expert in the field. But as a Russian citizen, I don't understand why we are in Syria and why Russia needs to interfere in the heavy inter-Islamic conflict and take one position against the other while Russia has millions of Muslims. I don't understand the goal of this activity. Probably those who make these decisions have some ideas.

What Russia do you see in 5 or 20 years?

I am often asked to make a forecast. And I always cite Friedrich Schlegel's quotation who said that historians are prophets who face backwards. History must teach to be careful because we know that nothing repeats, analogies don't work out, nothing ever copies the way it was. And a person can imagine the future only on the basis of the previous experience, he or she doesn't have another material. I think we are going to have a very serious crisis, and it is unlikely to avoid it. Having grandchildren, I would like to hope it won't become bloody and horrible. But it is unlikely to avoid it. What will happen then? To tell the truth, I don't know.

By Dilyara Akhmetzyanova