Provisional Stabilities: The Politics of Identities in Post-Soviet Eurasia
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Provisional Stabilities Ronald Grigor Suny The Politics of Identities in Post-Soviet Eurasia The comfortable notion that deep-lying stable cultural differences are fundamental to ethnic and national conºicts has taken a beating in recent scholarship. Essentialist, holistic, homogeneous conceptions of culture, such as ªgure in the popular works of Robert Kaplan and Samuel Huntington, have been seriously undermined by theoretical and empirical historical work.1 Rather than appearing coherent and uniform as it might look from afar, ethnicity at closer range looks fragmented, its cultural content contested and conºicted. Rather than primordial and organic , the nation has been reassessed as relatively modern, the product of deliberate intellectual and political work. And ethnic conºict, rather than the modern repetition of “ancient tribal struggles,” is seen as more contingent, requiring other kinds of causal explanation. This article employs a constructivist approach to analyze the ºuidity and multiplicity of identities as they function in national formation and the practice of internal and foreign policy. Rather than conceiving of nations and states as possessing single identities from which their interests and behavior follow, the approach here proposes that political actors are capable of employing various identities, constituted both historically and by elites, that shape their attitudes and actions in domestic and international arenas. Because, arguably, interests are tied to identities— that is, what we think we need is connected to who we think we are—the International Security, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Winter 1999/2000), pp. 139–178© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 139 Ronald Grigor Suny is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and the author of The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), and other books. This article began as a paper prepared for the Project on Russia’s Total Security Environment, Southern Tier Network, of the Institute for East West Studies and was originally presented at two writers’ conferences, in London (May 1998) and Istanbul (October 1998). A part of that original version has been published in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia: the 21st Century Security Environment (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999), edited by Rajan Menon, Yuri E. Fyodorov, and Ghia Nodia. The author would like to thank Ted Hopf, David Laitin, Major Peter Martinson, John Mearsheimer, Rajan Menon, Hendrik Spruyt, Stephen Walt, and the two anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article. 1. Robert D. Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” Atlantic Monthly (February 1994), pp. 44–76; and Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer 1993), pp. 22–29. For the critique of ethnic essentialism, see Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph, “Modern Hate, New Republic, March 23, 1993, pp. 24–29. whole question of self-understandings, goals and aspirations, and fears and anxieties must be investigated as prerequisite to analyzing the security requirements of states. The problem of forging relatively stable political and national identities is particularly acute at the present time in much of post-Soviet Eurasia. Insecurity and danger, fear of the future with few anchors left to the past, and a perceptible sense that there is no purpose in the current chaos mark the mood of Russians and other former Soviet citizens as they drift into the new millennium . Millions are living without the kinds of guiding visions that they had grown used to in Soviet times, and elites and the state itself have little conception of a “national idea.” Indeed, Russia is still a country that cannot agree on the words to its national anthem.2 In the so-called Southern Tier—those countries stretching from the Black Sea to the Far East that suffered the most economically, politically, and in terms of ethnic and civil conºict after the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—uncertainty about current politics and future possibilities are deeply embedded in more general confusion about who “we” are and where “our” interests lie. The key...