Old Habits Die Hard? ‘Phantom Messianism’ and Russian Imperial Nationalism

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with Dr. Alicja Curanovic (University of Warsaw)

The analysis of messianic motifs in the Russian official discourse allow for a conclusion that we are dealing with a narrative that nobody officially cares for but which, nevertheless, keeps appearing in the public statements. The narrative is still present because it’s anchored in the image of “Russia as a major power”. The strong conviction shared by the elite and the majority of ordinary Russians that their country can’t be anything else but a great power is in turn a part of imperial legacy and indicates that imperial nationalism is still a category relevant for Russians’ self-identification process.

Dr. Curanović argues that referring today to mission, i.e. the messianic narrative, is a particular routine or habit as defined by Ted Hopf. The empire is gone, but the narrative routine is still present. To address this new nature of mission-related motifs in foreign policy she uses the notion of “phantom messianism”. Today’s references to mission resemble phantomic reflexes which remain long time after the limb has been removed. They are not the main ideational drive behind Russia’s foreign policy. Mission narrative is also far from being an effective ideological tool of the government since ordinary Russians really don’t yearn for grand mission. It is rather a habit which resurfaces in passing.

Alicja Curanović is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw. She holds a PhD in political science (PhD thesis: "The Religious Factor in the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation"). Her main research interests are: Russian foreign policy; religious factor in international relations; international relations in the post-Soviet area, perception, identity, image and status, messianism in politics. She has conducted research inter alia at the Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, the Russian State University for Humanistic Studies and MGIMO. Her articles appeared in academic journals, e.g.  "Problems of Post-Communism", “Politics and Religion”, “Nationalities Papers” or “Religion, State and Society”. Her monograph – “The Religious Factor in Russia's Foreign Policy” (Routledge 2012).