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The Roots of President Putin's Twisted Pan Slavism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

To comprehend President Putin’s dogged insistence of and rigid delusion about the concept of a “Russian World” (Russkyy Mir), meaning the “yearning of all ethnic Slavs for the restoration of historic Russia’s unity,” and his equally harebrained idea of the “thousand years old Soviet Union’s demise as the embodiment of historical Russia,” one must hark back to the origin of Pan Slavism as well as its corrupted twin notion of Slav Messianism. Initially, Pan Slavism was born out of the works of two standard bearers of the German Enlightenment Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who contrasted the negative German lust for domination with the alleged positive temperament of the peace loving Slavic farmers (In German: friedliebende Ackerbauer).  To wit, Herder even praised the Slavs as “the people of the future.” 


The bridge between these German enlightened romantics and the recognition that the presumptive ethnic Slavs, in spite of their overwhelming numerical numbers, were hopelessly fragmented, were the Czech philologist Vaclav Hanka and the Czech Lutheran Pastor Jan Kollar.  The former was an intemperate swindler who falsified an old manuscript, called Königinhofer-und Grünberger Handschrift, designed to prove that the Slavic culture has been from time immemorial superior to that of the German.  The latter preached of God’s revelation about the blessed mission of the chosen Slavic people to bring about Christ’s eternal peace and absolute equality on earth.

However, throughout its existence for almost seven centuries, Muscovy as well as Imperial Russia unambiguously followed a policy of blind nationalism.  The brothers Ivan and Peter Kireyevskyy, Alexey St. Chomyakov and Ivan Aksakov propagated Russian national chauvinism as the only way to integrate the different branches of Pan Slavism.  Their rallying cry was “Unity without Freedom.”  Relations between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church were defined like the relationship between the body and the soul.  A great Slavic Reich was also envisaged under the absolute rule of the Russian Tsar.

However, the history of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries made a mockery of the “peaceful and innocent Slavic people” as well as the myth of “God’s chosen people.”  The repeated partitions of Poland from 1793 on, the creation of the personal union between Austria and Hungary in 1867, the two Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, the defeat of Imperial Russia and the subsequent Bolshevik revolution in 1917, gave the lie to all the fallacious nonsense about the mythically exceptional Slavic people. 


Meanwhile, Slavic Messianism counterintuitively reached its grotesque apex in the early and mid-19th century by the world-renowned Polish poet and writer Adam Mickiewicz.  Called the ‘Prophet of suffering Messianism,” his literary works dealt mainly with the loss of freedom of the Polish people in the hands of the hated and barbaric Russian occupiers.  In order to counterbalance his nation’s “pilgrimage,” in reality the Poles' exile from their homeland, he set out to organize a Polish Parliament in 1833, in Paris, which should have represented mankind in the form of a Republican Christianity.

Contrary to its internationalist rhetoric, the Soviet Union followed exclusively Russian nationalist domestic and foreign policies.  Domestically, the goal was to industrialize the multi-ethnic territorial monster as soon as possible and at all cost.  Therefore, the slogan of “Socialism in one country” was made the Soviet Union’s official state policy.  Internationally, the Soviet Union was neither internationalist, nor Anti-Fascist, nor Pan Slav.  It presented itself as a changing but infantile and backward dictatorial alternative to the democratic as well as developed West.  Actually, between the fall of 1939 and the spring of 1941, there were no calls at all for Slavic unity to assist Czechoslovakia and Poland against the German aggression.  The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23, 1939, just days prior to the beginning of World War II, enabled the Soviet Union to again partition Poland.  Thus, the Soviet Union was a willing partner of the Axis powers against all the Slavic states until June 1941, when it was invaded by the former.


President Putin’s epiphany from a staunch Communist to the new tyrannical Tsar of all the Slavic peoples is nothing but an old fashioned Russian propaganda hoax.  As all the Russian Pan Slavs before him, he is against any participation of the masses in the government.  According to his ingrained beliefs, the politicization of the people would rob them from their spirituality as well as their inner freedom.  More importantly, freedom would destroy the antediluvian and patriarchal subserviency between the Tsar and his subjects to the detriment of the former’s political and spiritual leadership.  In this manner, President Putin arrogates himself dual authority:  on the one hand he is the secular tyrant, while on the other hand he is the Grand Inquisitor of the true Slavic faith, namely the Russian Orthodox Church.

Clearly, President Putin’s bold but completely irrational attempt at justifying his quest for the restoration of the Soviet Union is doomed to abysmal failure.  Yet, his intellectual lightness sheds light on the eternal problem of Pan-Slavism - the never ending war between those who believe in individual freedom and those who either consciously or subconsciously surrender their free will to a totalitarian authority.  For the latter, life becomes a mere illusion, in which reality and fiction are not distinguishable any more.  For this reason, the world must be very concerned about President Putin’s ability and willingness to work for peace cum stability at home as well as abroad.


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