Russia: an Identity Crisis

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Russia: An Identity Crisis

Recent years have triggered a rush of attention in the fate of empires. That is to say the attention has been in an interest in their rise, decline, and fall. Much of the writing on this subject has been intended to serve as assurance, or interchangeably, warning to the current leading power, the United States. This is reasonable. Considerably less attention is paid to what happens subsequently. We overlook the study of what happens when the decline and fall of the empire is accomplished, and the empire ceases to exist.

Russia no longer remains as an empire, and it is never going to be an empire again. Nevertheless many features set up in the imperial era are still detected in modernity. Russia is not simply “lost in transition” but it is also in translation. The actual situation playing out in Russia is historical transformation. This takes much longer and it has no immediately recognizable end. Dissimilar to all the other affiliates of the Soviet bloc or former states of the Soviet Union, the country of Russia has had to live and deal with its imperial heritage, and this element has weighed deeply in the country’s failure to accept integration into the West. Focused chiefly on itself, and attempting to avoid being lead or dominated by any other countries, Russia is determined to rebuild itself as a great power. It trusts it has enough resources to act an important role as a counterbalance in world politics, a swing state upsetting the international balance (Brown 59). Whether this desire has any substance depends on how effectively the nation reforms its economy and institutions. But whatever happens, whether Russia does in the end modernize or not, there will be no new manifestation of its bygone empire. The Russia of today is in the state of being a post-empire rather than a neo-imperial one (Gorenburg 27). All empires do rise and eventually fall. When an empire falls, they occasionally join with stronger powers, whether ex-enemies or allies. The Japanese Empire and the German Third Reich went down in utter ruin, first crushed on the battlefield and occupied, then restructured by the winning powers. England and France, though among the victorious in World War II, lost almost all of their possessions abroad within a few decades as a consequence of decolonization after the war. Minor European imperial powers, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, led vicious colonial wars, realized that they could not win, were forced to pronounce defeat and return to their respective home countries (Acton 35). Whatever the situation might have been, these countries succeeded comparatively soon to reconstruct themselves as successful and prosperous nation-states. When the physical parting with imperial territories had transpired and trade had been diverted or diversified, imperial nostalgia eventually waned. What was left was cultural influence. The British Empire produced numerous societies, which now constitute the English-speaking part of the Western world. Even countries as varied as South Africa and India have taken from their former colonial power its legal system, language, and basic values of government (Acton 49-50). Adjoining empires were more challenging to break up. But separation when it did finally occur was more complete. For many decades after 1923 Turkey experienced a very limited global role, above all in its former imperial territories. Similarly, after 1945 West Germany experienced a limited global role. Spain, having lost its colonies in America in the nineteenth century, had to endure in comparative obscurity, basically up to the moment it unified with the rest of Europe by way of membership in the EU in 1986 and NATO in 1982 (Acton 142). Decades after the collapse of their empires, some of these nations rose up to become powers in their region such as Turkey. Or they materialized as the leader of a united Europe such as Germany or put together an informal role for themselves as a...
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