By Sergei Gligashvili, special to Prague Watchdog
How thin and fragile at times is the layer of liberal perceptions that has wafted at random down the back alleys of Soviet-style thinking during the past two decades. The national intelligentsia, whose right to consider themselves an integral part of European culture has long been beyond question, is suddenly revealing a tendency to articulate ideas whose totalitarian nature it is not even conscious of. With the excitement of a pioneer discoverer, it is yielding to the delirium of missionism (not to be confused with messianism) and nationalism, never once imagining how far this is taking it from its sought-for European identity. Usam Baysayev’s article "We come from the past", with a recklessness that permits him to say out loud, as if they were truths, things that are usually kept quiet, is in its own way a model of fragmentation and divided national consciousness wandering in the darkness of concepts that were rejected long ago.
Baysayev’s piece is not a serious study but a hastily cobbled together, almost provocative manifestation of the hegemony of a single ethnic group. The words that are used to describe the Chechens’ special role, their great mission, are easy to spot: "backbone", "arbiter", "centre", "locomotive... capable of hauling away from Russia if not the entire Caucasus, then at least a part of it." Here the key concept is that of the "centre". It is clear that this is not a geographically central location, but a spiritual centre from which emanates a boundless love of freedom. In Baysayev’s view it is this that constitutes the true character of the peoples of the Caucasus. Typically, the related word-pair "highlanders – freedom" appears in the text without being tied to any particular ethnic group. Not much work is required to determine who is being referred to.
The method by which Usam Baysayev attempts to bring to an end the eternal conflict of the national with the universal appears neither correct nor intelligent. He simply makes a statement about the duality of the Chechen cosmos, which for him contains two organic essences – the religious and the national.
The Chechens’ attempt at independence was not connected with the quest for freedom. As in Russia, but much more vigorously, the space won back from the empire (whether Soviet or Russian) was appropriated by the agents of chaos and enslavement. As in other situations, here the Chechens resort to a tried and trusted method which shifts responsibility for their lack of success onto others. They never tire of trying to convince themselves that that the failure of their repeated attempts to establish their own state is all Russia’s fault. It is a feeble argument.
On missionism again: there is not a single word in the article about the genesis of the Chechen love of freedom. It is present as a genetic axiom – an inalienable property of the blood that has been given to the Chechens by the Almighty. This is pure nationalism of a most inferior and primitive kind, one that insists on the superiority and exclusivity of a single ethnic group, with a divine imperative founded on the pagan substantiality of blood. The deification of the national leads to Nazism, and is in flagrant contradiction to the monotheistic model of the universe.
I think that Usam Baysayev is well aware of how his liberal-intellectual “soft” version of the national idea correlates with Kadyrov’s populistic one: the same hegemonism as a form of aggressive movement outwards. The only difference is that in Kadyrov’s version the place of the armed struggle for freedom into which the republic’s neighbours must be drawn takes the form of an ideal system of suppression which must be spread equally throughout the North Caucasus region. And in Kadyrov’s interpretation it is only the political content of missionism that has changed: now the aim for the republics of the region is not independence, but a rapprochement with the Russian state.
But Kadyrov’s doctrine merely imitates the dying phases of Russian missionism. Where Russian thinkers from Khomyakov and Aksakov onwards justified the superiority of ethnic Russian or Russian national idea by the inherent qualities of unworldliness, irrationality, rootedness in the heavenly and the neglect of earthly happiness, today’s degraded ruling class talks about a "third way", holding up the threadbare political model of "sovereign democracy” as a sacred image of specialness and Russianness.
I have a suggestion for the nationalists – Russians and Chechens alike. Why don’t they grow their national idea, their missionism, from the gift of self-limitation that has been granted to every man and woman? The contemporary thinker Vadim Tsymbursky considered that the idea of Russia’s "universal humanity" should be replaced with the local concept of the “island”, which also included the Invisible City of Kitezh. I would develop this image into a consciously restricted space which – in the realization of how dangerous to the outside world any contact with it would be – has the strength to stop its movement outwards until it acquires intellectual maturity and moral sanity.
(Translation by DM)