Blog Conversations Russian Citizenship

Russian Citizenship – A Reaction

Our panel of distinguished commentators have raised a number of very interesting points related to Eric’s book. Alison wonders whether the emotional aspect of citizenship and the decision where to live might well be worth additional consideration. Her post and Eric’s response highlight some methodological issues that confront researchers addressing these themes, but I think there is more to say on this issue. Students of nationalism and national identity have long tried to come to terms with the affective aspects of the phenomenon. I find myself wondering now more acutely how questions of citizenship intersected with nationalism on the “emotional plane.” This is a question not only for Eric, but for all of our blog readers.

Similarly, I am thinking much more about the question of economic autarky and physical borders as a result of the posts of Ari, Golfo, and Andrey. Ari suggests that the intensifying global restrictions on migration and citizenship in the interwar period might have played a role in Soviet practices of autarky. Golfo was struck, as I was, by Eric’s tale of the victorious police lobby in the early Soviet period and by the link between ascendant police forces and tighter border controls. Andrey, on the other hand, issued a thoughtful challenge to the very premise that the Soviets wanted to pursue autarky. He aligns himself with Michael Dohan’s argument that the decline in foreign trade was the result not of a Soviet intent to isolate their own economy, but from a collapse in exportable goods (such as grain) and the isolationism of Depression-era capitalist states. At the same time, Andrey warns us not to think of the increasingly militarized Soviet border as a means to enforce blanket restrictions on emigration but as a result of particular campaigns related to specific security concerns. He expresses doubts about consistent anti-foreign sentiments during terror campaigns as well and suggests that, much like Eric’s description of the imperial situation, these police-state measures were often “separate deals” as well.

We have a number of concepts floating around in time-sensitive relationships with each other: citizenship, nationalism, protectionism, autarky, capitalism, globalization, migration, and border, to name a few. Again, I would like to know if blog readers have thoughts on these issues, even if they have not yet had the opportunity to read Lohr’s book.

By Joshua Sanborn

David M. '70 and Linda Roth Professor of History
Department of History
Lafayette College (Pennsylvania, USA)

One reply on “Russian Citizenship – A Reaction”

Josh asked for a few more thoughts about the affective/emotional aspect of citizenship, so here’s a quick one. I wonder if there is an implicit assumption in the field of citizenship studies (and more generally) that citizenship is at root a choice. That choice implies (at least in the traditions we know best) acceptance of a kind of social contract between the individual and the state, with the former gaining rights and the later acquiring obligations. There is a parallel in the literature on nationality from Renan’s notion of the daily plebiscite to other theorists’ notions of nationality as a choice. But in researching and thinking about citizenship I instead found many examples more in line with Brubaker’s notion of nationality as an event that happens to people regardless of their will (or emotional affinities). Borders are redrawn and citizenships imposed. Refugees find themselves outside borders and are given few options. Children are born into a land that may or may not be the land of their desire. Citizenship policies are not constructed primarily in order to allow people to express their will. Rather, singular choices (individual or mass) taken at a given moment in time, become “locked in.” Just as a single moment in time can mobilize nationalism and/or impose nationality, so too it can impose citizenship. But the consequences can be even more permanent and difficult to change in the case of citizenship than nationality. So we live in a world that pours massive resources into the defense of citizenship boundaries between millions of people arbitrarily sorted into their citizenries. Three hundred years ago, it was the accident of birth into a social order that was the most important ordering principle of the world. Today, the citizenship one is born into is one of the most important determinants of wealth, freedom, status, etc. People surely become emotional about their citizenship, but the question seems most often to be a pragmatic one (seeking a better job, more convenient life, unification with family)—and many passionate Hondurans, Kirgiz, and Tajiks aggressively seek to leave their national and familial homes behind in search of a better life (and citizenship) elsewhere. In all this, it is striking how arbitrarily the world’s citizenries are assigned and how little individual will has to do with it.

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