Enemies of the State

If you accept the increasingly common emphasis on statehood and sovereignty in contemporary Russian discourse, then perhaps viewing “the State” as an abstract, impersonal idea immune to offense is, in itself, Russophobic.  That is, if more and more Russians identify proudly with the State, then shouldn’t their pride be just as respected as the more personal sensitivities associated with race?  

This is not a position I can comfortably adopt, even if its rejection is difficult without invoking the old  Marxist accusation of  “false consciousness.”  There has to be room to see the State as a political actor whose choices are subject to rationale critique. We can get a better handle on Russophobia if we remove it from the set of terms it resembles etymologically (such as homophobia) and see it in more a more familiar context of geopolitics.  Russophobia makes sense when compared to “anti-Americanism.”   

Since the term has been with us for so long, there is a much richer literature available on anti-Americanism than there is on Russophobia.  [1]  This does not mean that anti-Americanism is any less problematic than Russophobia, but rather that the two phenomena share many of the same deficiencies. Moreover, as Max Paul Freedman convincingly elaborates,  anti-Americanism’s prominence during the Cold War cannot (and should not) be disentangled from the Cold War adversary.  The very existence of the Soviet Union made charges of anti-Americanism all the more potent, since the same people who were comfortable throwing the term around were equally at home in the Cold War’s schematic, binary worldview. 

Like Russophobia, anti-Americanism could conceivably target the country and its policies, or simply Americans as a particular type.  Unlike Russophobia, however, anti-Americanism rarely refers to individuals and their foibles. Where Oleg Nemenskii distinguishes between “everyday" (бытовая) Russophobia and “ideological” (идеологическая) Russophobia, anti-Americanism has little need of this distinction. [2] Instead, charges of anti-Americanism assume the same identity between the country and its government’s policies that characterize accusations of Russophobia.  Internally, then, both anti-Americanism and Russophobia are construed as disloyalty or lack of patriotism, while externally, they substitute an emotional or ideological hatred for actual evaluation of a given policy or action. 

Whatever one might think of the idea of anti-Americanism, it is a term that has proven vigorous and adaptable over a long period of time.  The Russian counterpart is more complicated, since “Russophobia” could never have been an adequate term during the Cold War (even if we allow for the common Western confusion of the Soviet Union with “Russia,” technically only one of 15 constituent republics).  For Western cold warriors, the enemy was communism itself.  Within the Soviet Union, opposition was “anti-Soviet” rather than “Russophobia” (and unlike anti-Americanism in the States, “anti-Soviet activity” was recognized as a crime by the Soviet legal code). The re-introduction of “Russophobia” by Igor Shafarevich was well-timed, since it reconfigured foreign hostility for an eventual post-Soviet era while accounting for  inter-ethnic rivalry in the Soviet and post-Soviet space.  

As the Soviet Union fades into memory (a memory increasingly rose-tinged with nostalgia), the ideological distinction between anti-Sovietism (as a manifestation of anti-communism) and Russophobia fades with it. This allows contemporary conspiracy theorists and Russian nationalists to see Western anti-Sovietism as nothing more than disguised Russophobia.  Throw in some poorly-digested historical factoids and Russia (rather than the Soviet Union) is the object of twentieth-century Western animosity. [3] 

Monday: Igor Shafarevich


[1] A good starting point is Max Paul Freedman’s Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. 

[2] Nemenskii, Oleg. “Russofobiia, kak ideologiia.” Russkii dom. Dlia tekh, kto liubit Rossiiu! May 26, 2014. http://www.russdom.ru/node/7732

[3] For example, in Viktor Dostenko’s Mad Dog in Love (Любовь Бешеного) (1998), the eighth entry in his multivolume series of thrillers, the hero is surprised to learn that his American friend, the FBI “Lieutenant” (sic) Michael James, has two sons names Vasily and Viktor; it turns out that Michael’s great-grandfather fled from Siberia to Alaska at the turn of the century.  Michael’s grandfather was forced to abandon his Russian last name because of the McCarthy witch hunts (Liubov’ 367).  It’s a small, but telling, mistake: American anti-communist hysteria in the 1950s becomes a case of ethnic discrimination.