This weeks’ Russia Magazine column, “Historical Lineages of Putin’s Russian National Identity,”
Last week, Putin delivered a speech on Russia’s national identity at the 10thannual Valdai Club meeting. Though much of the speech reiterated central concepts Putin laid out in his 2012 Presidential campaign article on ethnicity, I was nonetheless struck by his remarks. Over the last week I’ve been talking about Slavophilism, Russian national awakening, and pan-Slavism in my late Imperial Russia class. Putin’s comments resonated with some of the same questions consuming literati in the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, I couldn’t help focusing on the Slavophile moments in Putin’s text despite its rather motley nature. Moreover, I couldn’t help hear echoes of Nikolai Danilevsky’s Russia and Europe (1869). I’ve been reading about Danilevsky’s notions of circular history, the uniqueness of Russian civilization, its incompatibility with the West, and Russia’s messianic mission for a lecture on pan-Slavism. I’m not saying that Danilevsky had a direct influence on Putin. I have no idea if Putin ever read Danilevsky’s text. Nor do Danilevsky’s and Putin’s text correspond exactly. Only, I claim, that some of the issues concerning the Russian idea in the nineteenth century remain unresolved today. Namely, the nature of Russian civilization, its relationship to the West, and its particular historical development and mission. Putin’s thoughts on these fall into a deep historical tradition on the nature of Russia’s national identity and how it’s realized.