Nationalism is not necessarily a bad thing, Russia has much to be proud of. But why are Russians so loyal even when they are critical of their government? Here are some ideas:
- too much history. Most countries with a long history still preserve memories of their glorious past and think they have “interests” all over the world: France, China, India, England, Spain and of course Russia. To their credit, the Italians have grown out of this.
- Russian paranoia. It is true that Russia has been invaded from all directions and lost millions of people as a result. And it is true that the West forgets about this, maybe because Russia is lost somewhere between the “near East” and the “far East”. But why is Russia still so obsessed by fear of attack? It is now impossible since the invention of nuclear weapons.
- the Orthodox Church. The church has been part of Russia from the start and has helped the state to spread its messages.
- oil. If a country relies mostly on oil for its income, it seems to become corrupted. The steady income doesn’t require too much innovation and it provides enough wealth for an autocrat to keep the people happy enough. It also can be controlled by criminals and there is enough money to go around even if the criminals skim off a lot of it.
- the Russian Soul. They are always going on about this and it is a big part of their nationalism. Tolstoy rants about the Russian soul in War and Peace. He says the high society in Moscow was full of French, Germans, Poles etc. They are all morally weak, but the real strength is in the Russian peasants. It is almost like the glorification of Aboriginal’s connection to the land. It feeds their nationalism and willingness to see themselves as the “good guys” no matter what happens.
- The size of Russia and the many cultures makes it hard to govern, so the Tsars, Communists and Putin all decided that strong autocratic rule is the only way to go. Their brief try at democracy in the 1990’s resulted in chaos, misery and a collapsed economy.
- The autocratic ruler still needs tricks to hold things together and fear of an external threat always works. But will the people beyond the Urals ever get sick of supplying cannon fodder for the army but get very little back from the government in Moscow?
- However, we need caution. It would not be a good outcome for Russia to become a province of China.