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The Russian World Proposal: From the Geopolitical Utopia to Affective Community

Final Report Summary - RUSMIR (The Russian World Proposal: From the Geopolitical Utopia to Affective Community)

Post-Soviet geopolitical culture has been impacted by visions of large Russian-speaking diaspora, which according to some accounts numbers no less than 25 million of emigrants and those Russians who were stranded in foreign countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian political leadership and intellectuals have made multiple attempts to include this diaspora into the projects of national identity making, and to transform it into a powerful economic and political leverage of Russia abroad. The concept of the ‘Russian world’ is instrumental for ideological appropriation of the diaspora, and since the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine, it has become the central and most popular concept, structuring the whole of Russia’s ideological landscape in the past few years.
The RUSMIR project offers the most comprehensive three-level analysis of the ‘Russian world’ as a policy, ideology and popular vision, approached from the viewpoint of critical geopolitics. The research is grounded on the analysis of vast materials, obtained both from the published sources (policy papers, opinion papers, the press, political tracts, textbooks on geopolitics), and large data sets obtained from the monitoring of social networks. First of all, the PI of the project has reconstructed the cultural context of the ‘Russian world’, having inquired into the overlapping, concomitant and adjacent geopolitical visions, such as religious geopolitics (e.g. ‘Holy Russia’, ‘canonical territory’), geopolitical imagining of regions (‘Novorossiia’, ‘Crimea’), conservative ideology and ideas of ‘civilization’, ‘continent’, ‘empire’, and ‘great power’ (such as ‘Eurasian Union’, ‘Orthodox civilization’). Secondly, Dr. Suslov identified and analyzed the dynamics of the conceptual change of the ‘Russian world’ project, zooming in on the post-Soviet period, but also providing long-term contextualizing of these changes. Finally, he offered an interpretative view on post-Soviet Russian geopolitical culture, and insights into its possible developments in the future.
In particular, Dr. Suslov argues that ideological and political use of the Russian-speaking diaspora has never been a single consistent policy of neo-imperial instrumentalization. On the one hand, there have been several competing projects, and the ideological content of the ‘Russian world’ concept has changed dramatically several times. In the late 1990s its meaning was fixed as a project of partnership with decentralized network of the communities of compatriots worldwide. Later on, in the changed ideological environment and due to proximity to the concept of ‘sovereign democracy’, the ‘Russian world’ acquired a meaning of Russia’s soft power instrument in international relations. Finally, after 2014, it tends to signify the isolated, ‘civilization-like’, territorially-based and ethnically-colored political entity, which serves as legitimation for irredentist policies.
On the other hand, the diaspora resists attempts to be ideologically grasped and politically instrumentalized. First, Russia and its diaspora have never lived in symbiosis. They historically developed very tense ‘love-hate’ relations, rooted in the colonization processes on the Eurasian landmasses. The dialectics of binding the settled population on the territory of the state, and sending it outside of the Russia’s borders, produced persistent ambiguities in popular and official visions of diaspora as both Russia’s frontier and defense line, and as traitors of homeland. Second, Russian-speaking diaspora has post-imperial character. Its country of exodus, the Soviet Union, is there no more, and at the same time it is difficult to align diaspora with the nation-state of Russians. This has created insurmountable conceptual and legal predicaments. There are great many ways in which the identity and the very definition of the Russian ‘compatriots’ could be shaped. Third, when it comes down to practical actions, in spite of the institutionalization of the diasporal policies and significant financial resources poured by the state, the actual level of mobilization of diaspora, especially in West Europe, Israel and North America, is very low. The project identified several reasons for this, among which one can name the split between ‘compatriots’ in former Soviet republics, and voluntary emigrants in other countries, persistence of the late Soviet culture of depolitization in diaspora, and cleavage between ‘professional compatriots’ and Russian-speakers, integrated in the host society.
In terms of academic activity, during the project’s lifespan Dr. Suslov has published two edited (one co-edited with Mark Bassin) volumes and three edited special journal issues. Now he is working towards a monograph and two co-edited volumes. Between 2013 and 2017 he published 19 peer-reviewed articles and chapters, three more have been accepted for publication, and one more is under the review. Dr. Suslov has published 12 non-peer-reviewed papers, gave several media interviews, organized 4 conferences and workshops, several conference papers, and delivered two dozens of guest lectures and conference presentations. It is safe to say that in the past four years Dr Suslov has decisively consolidated his reputation as a specialist in Russian area studies, intellectual history, and critical geopolitics.
The Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, where RUSMIR was placed, has no teaching program, but nevertheless, Dr. Suslov gave occasional lectures, supervised two MA students, and received certificates from the Academic Teacher Training Course and from the PhD Supervision Course, organized by the Uppsala University. In May 2017 Dr. Suslov applied for the title of ‘docent’ at the department of political studies, Uppsala University; the application has been preliminarily approved, and is now in the pipeline. Reputation, publication profile, academic experience and teaching credentials, obtained during the project implementation period, secured him a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, starting from August 2017.