Wednesday, November 27, 2002

There's an interesting story here, one that might well be overlooked:

President Vladimir Putin backed a proposal yesterday to reinstate the Communist-era red star on the Russian army flag, the latest in a series of measures to restore symbols linked to the Soviet Union.

"As far as symbols are concerned, I naturally support that proposal," Putin was shown on television telling officers. He said he hoped parliament's leaders would persuade lawmakers to back Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov's initiative.

Once the most recognized icon of the Soviet Union after the hammer and sickle, the five-point star never vanished but was phased out after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Putin's plan — if backed by parliament, as expected — would return the star officially to the military's enormous parade banners. Military caps and belt buckles would likely be next.
The question of what's going to happen with Russia over the next few years or even the next decade is in some respects an extraordinarily important one, but one that's rarely asked. Usually discussions of Russia revolve around its role on the U.N. or in regards to its position on Iraq, but I don't think that that's the whole story. Most of the stories I've seen in the media have either argued or implied that there's a very strong affinity to the past in Russia, especially to the days of the Empire or to the Union. Russian (and Chechan) nationalism is key to explaining the Chechnian conflict without resorting to anti-Islamic reductionism, and the desire for a strong leadership was a big reason why Putin was able to acquire and retain the level of power he enjoys.

While the Russian Military's adoption of elements of the old flag doesn't mean that Russians are going to embrace communism again, it does reinforce this idea that they aren't quite willing to give up the legacy of the Union. Not surprising, considering the lot that they've had to endure after the Union was unceremoniously thrown out the window by Boris Yeltsin. Considering the trend towards economic and political integration at work in the world today, however, it does raise the question about whether the Union, or something along that line, could return in the future. I wonder whether or not we might see a "Union of Sovereign Republics" in the future, sans the "Socialist" and "Soviet" names. It'd be one hell of a historical reversal: a vindication of Gorbachev's vision of a new Union, and a repudiation of Yeltsin's entrenchment of Russian independence.

In any case, it shows that there are stories out there that stretch beyond the confines of the Middle East and the question of Islam.

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