Nina Hiekonen 64833
International Relations/ Thesis Writing KKEN61
The Issue of Russian Identity
The issue of identity is important as it provides certain characteristics of state. It describes a state and resolves questions of state identification. It characterizes a state in the context of other states. In addition, it constructs an idea of a state.
Constructivism offers alternative understandings of a number of central themes in International Relations theory, including the meaning of anarchy and a balance of power, a relationship between state identity and interest, and prospects for change in world politics. Constructivism assumes that actors and structures mutually constitute each other; anarchy must be interpreted to have a meaning; state interests are part of the process of identity construction; power is both material and discursive; and change in world politics is both possible and difficult (Hopf, 1998:171). For constructivists there is no "logic" of anarchy apart from the practices that create and instantiate one structure of identities and interests rather than another; structure has no existence or causal powers apart from process. Self-help and power politics are institutions, not essential features of anarchy. Anarchy is what states make of it (Wendt, 1992:395).
In constructivism, identity is an important creative factor. Identity plays an important role in world politics. Identities are produced by interactions, institutions, norms and cultures. In addition, identities are important for the construction of the state (Wendt 1992). From the constructivist's point of view, identities are necessary in international politics in order to ensure some level of predictability and order. A world without identities is a world of chaos, a world of uncertainty. Identities perform necessary functions in a society: they tell you and others who you are and they tell you who others are. A state understands others according to the identity it attributes to them, and reproduces its own identity. (Hopf, 1998:174).
A state identity is formed in a system of states. Hopf assumes that constructivism, while expecting to uncover differences, identities and multiple understandings, still assumes that it can specify a set of conditions under which one can expect to see one identity or another (Hopf, 1998).
Understanding how identities are constructed, what norms and practices accompany their reproduction, and how they construct each other is a major part of the constructivist research program. Constructivism assumes, a priori, that identities are potentially part of the constitutive practices of the state, and so, productive of its actions at home and abroad. Different states behave differently towards other states, based on the identities of each (Hopf 1998, 174).
Identity of a state in international politics is quite important as it characterizes the state internally and internationally. Every identity brings in itself a certain knowledge about the state, its internal and external issues, as well as state behavior.
One state whose behaviour has received a lot of attention both in recent years and at present is Russia.
The way Russia sees itself in the world order is a way in which the state is recognised. It plays on the world stage as a power which has its world to say in the world politics. An identity of Russia produced during the history has been re-valued and judged by politicians. The Russian state has its peculiar role in the world. It is a huge power which has a specific national identity and which occupies a special position in the world order. To see Russia's development in history, it has undergone many changes, and during history the state identity of Russia was formed. Dramatic changes, which characterized all the history of Russian Empire were significant and reflected a strong nature of the Russian state. Its position in the world order defines the Russian state as a global power.
In this respect, I would propose that throughout the history of Russia, identity has formed its behaviour, interests, and actions in the world. It has gone through many changes. At every phase of change, it has formed its position, and therefore Russian identity in the world system. For example, an identity of Soviet Union was understood by a Western world as Russia during the existence of the USSR, despite the fact that the Soviet Union was trying hard not to have that identity. Likewise, European identities were incomplete until they encountered peoples in the Americas and India respectively. The necessity of difference with another to produce one's own identity is important (Hopf, ibid.).
In the case of geopolitics, Russia is in strategic position in the centre of Eurasia. It is divided by Ural mountains into European and Asian parts. It is a country with huge natural resources, including oil, gas and gold.
On the other hand, national identity of Russia is very strong. It is based on hundreds years of history, culture and traditions. The national identity together with language, traditions, culture, is the main characteristic of the Russian nation and forms the basis of its self-definition. The Russian national identity therefore has certain spiritual and materialistic soil which also includes culture and the politics of state. The national identity of Russia is its main identifying character.
From the beginning of the 19th century, thinkers and officials such as Karamzin, Speransky and others look to Europe for ideas to improve the Russian political order.
Nicholas V.Riasanovsky in his book "Russian Identities. A Historical Survey" says that in Kievan Russia the political system was certainly pluralistic and to an extent even populist and democratic (Riasanovsky 2005 :19).
Russian identity is very unique in Western civilization. Peculiarities lie within historical development and its specific features in comparison to Western civilization in general. Russian identity has its own value and is motivated by internal factors, as well as by external factors, for example in the context of the EU, by other neighboring states and world politics. Russia becomes more developed and interconnected in the world and West. In the context of constructivism, it will sound as a state construction, and a theoretically approved fact.
John O'Loughlin and Paul F. Talbot talk about Soviet Union. The end as a unified territory and the effect that this disintegration had on the geopolitical imaginations of Russian people.
Another important issue is Russian Orthodoxy, which influences a Russian state and culture, as well as forms the Russian identity from its side. Phrases such as "81% of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox", "To be Russian is to be Orthodox", "The special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia is the development of Russias spiritually" are significant. Special status of Orthodoxy over all other religious traditions in Russia is significant. On the other hand, the alternatives to the future of Orthodox church are, for example, removing the church from the direct participation in politics, as well as keeping the state separated from the church. Thus the place of the church and other religious organizations is challenged in Russia.
An international vision on the view of Russian identity is quite different from the one being developed inside of Russia. National policies which create internal state identity are quite different from the ones being developed in other countries. Therefore, I see Russia as a unique state with certain important values and own national identity.
There are two ends of Russian foreign policy. It balances between East and West, preferably choosing the West as a path to follow and to negotiate with (see Karamzin 1803). It grants the West a significant task of strengthening Russia in the spheres such as economy, politics, including International Politics. It gives an example to Russia how to build up the country. It provides significant ties in politics, as well as economic ties, which strengthen and unify Russia.
Russia is constructing its nation. Russia is building up the nation both on micro and macro levels. Russia has its behavior in World Politics and provides strong ties within the economy and politics in the World and the International system. Russia develops a special nation in the World, and goes by a continuity in its political life and behavior (see Borshevsky 2000, Ponarin 2000).
The search for Russian national identity is an important trend. Russians have easily identified with standard, dominant Russian cultures - be they Russian Orthodox, Russian Imperial or Russian Soviet. It was other peoples of the empire, in particular Moslem and Western Christian (Roman Catholic and Protestant), who had problems. This is why during hundreds of years Russians did not have a very strong ethnic identity, whereas their many non-Russian neighbors did. However, this has been changing lately (Ponarin 1999).
Russian national identity has been an important issue especially during the rule of Putin. There is a certain trend towards strengthening a prestige and national self-identity of state. The problem of identity of Russia has been quite actual during the last 15 years and it is connected with the problem of balance of power. New identity of Russia is formed, but there is some uncertainty. Russia is undergoing important changes in politics and it is considered to be a powerful, but quite unpredictable nation.