The Example of Tsarist Russia: Vital and Physical Contiguity and Interest Without True Psychological Unity

Viewed purely from the physical and vital standpoints of natural boundaries and borders, access, and mutual defense against stronger neighbors, the attempt to weld together the diverse and culturally distinct elements of Tsarist Russia would make clear sense.  The case could be made for lands spanning from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean that in each case they were better and stronger together than separate.  Unfortunately for those who tried to fashion a unity out of this diversity, the cultural differences were large and the attempted methods, including autocratic control and the use of force, was unable to solve the problem.  Fast forward past the devastation of the 2nd World War and we see the next great attempt to solve the problem through force, with mass killings and forced migrations during the Stalinist era attempting to complete the work begun decades earlier and pushed forward after population decimation that occurred during the war itself.  The result was the Soviet Union which eventually broke up into separate states based primarily on the compact psychological unity of the peoples of those states, and a newer attempt to build some kind of overarching alliance between these separate states to yield the benefits that unification were supposed to provide.  Today Russia, through use of force and intimidation and economic pressure, continues to try to reconstitute something of the larger entity of Greater Russia, with only modest success, and continues to struggle with adherent states that did not set up as independent nations, but which nevertheless maintain cultural diversity from the Russian core of the Nation.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The only psychological justification of such a union was the future possibility of fusion into a single nation with the Russian language as its instrument of culture, thought and government, and it was this which the old Russian regime had in view.  The only way to bring this about was by governmental force, the way that had been long attempted by England in Ireland and was attempted by Germany in German Poland and Lorraine.  The Austrian method of federation employed with Hungary as a second partner or of a pressure tempered by leniency, by concessions and by measures of administrative half-autonomy, might have been tried, but their success in Austria has been small. … Or, if things and ideas had been ripe, instead of this attempt, there might have been an endeavour to found a free union of nations with the Tsar as the symbol of a supra-national idea and bond of unity; but for this the movement of the world was not yet ready.  Against an obstinate psychological resistance the vital and physical motive of union could only resort to force, military, administrative and political, which has succeeded often enough in the past.  In Russia, it was probably on the way to a slow success as far as the Slavic portions of the Empire were concerned; in Finland, perhaps also in Poland, it would probably have failed much more irretrievably than the long reign of force failed in Ireland, partly because even a Russian or a German autocracy cannot apply perfectly and simply the large, thoroughgoing and utterly brutal and predatory methods of a Cromwell or Elizabeth, partly because the resisting psychological factor of nationalism had become too self-conscious and capable of an organised passive resistance or at least a passive force of survival.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 30, The Principle of Free Confederation, pp. 265-266

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