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The Understanding of Motherland (Rodina) in the Survey

In this chapter, we translate the word “rodina” as motherland, which conveys specific connotations in contrast to the word “otechestvo,” fatherland, deriving from the word “otets,” father. The concept of rodina derives from the word “rod,” a clan or tribe, and the adjective “rodnoi,” which means both something connected by family or blood ties and something near and dear to a person. For example, one’s hometown is expressed as “rodnoi gorod.” Thereby, the word rodina could also be translated as “home country.” Nevertheless, in Russian cultural history, the word “rodina” is often associated with the idea of Russia as a woman or a mother. For example, one of the most famous wartime propaganda posters featured a woman with a beckoning hand and the text “Rodina zovet” [the motherland calls you]. Incidentally, many Rodnovers refer to this poster as an example of Pagan thinking evoking Russia as a female divinity in Soviet imagery and rhetoric.

According to Irina Sandomirskaia, in the Russian tradition, the word rodina draws from two competing intellectual traditions. The first is state patriotism, which emphasizes the individual’s duty toward one’s fatherland (otechestvo). The second is an emancipatory discourse which criticizes power, a form of romantic rebellion against it. For example, the so-called village writers of the 1960s and 1970s used the term “malaya rodina” [small motherland], in contrast to Soviet internationalism (Sandomirsakaia 2001: 16, 98-9).

In the 2014 survey, the open question, “What does motherland mean to you?” was left unanswered by 26 respondents. Some of the responses were only one word long, while others contained a more detailed description. A preliminary analysis of the key words in responses divides the answers into the following categories:




land, my land

























Nationalism Home





Rus’ (the name of the country from the late ninth to the midthirteenth century)

Russia Nature






9 3

Categories such as “family” or “nature” were based directly on words mentioned by respondents; other categories were based on further analysis of respondents’ answers. For example, the category “nationalism” included such answers as “nation” (natsiya), “blood” or “the lands of the Slavs.” Naturally, such interpretation was subjective, but it aimed to incorporate the implicit connotations of the words. Therefore, the word “zemlya” [land] was excluded from the category of “nationalism,” but “nationalism” included the term “pochva” [soil], which in contemporary Russian bears a more nationalistic connotation. Similarly, “the ancestors” were left as a separate category, because the word does not indicate any ethnic denominators, while the word “blood” was included in the category of “nationalism.” The category “cosmopolitanism” included the most diverse answers. It is important to mention that none of the respondents actually used the word “cosmopolitanism” due to its negative connotations in the Russian language.9 These connotations derive from Soviet times, when “good internationalism” was distinguished from “bad cosmopolitanism” in a similar way to how “good patriotism” was distinguished from “harmful nationalism.” The concept of the “rootless cosmopolitan” was also used as a code word for Jews in anti-Semitic rhetoric. In the survey discussed here, this analytical category was used to include such answers as “an abstract concept, which is not connected to any tangible place,” or “all the world.” What was common to these answers was their refusal to demarcate “the motherland” as a specific geographical area or ethnicity, instead referring to the motherland as locatable anywhere in the world, according to one’s choice. In this way, the ultimate idea underpinning all these answers can be characterized as cosmopolitanism.

The single word answers in particular may admit several interpretations. For example, the word “home” could mean that the respondent considers his or her home to be a personal homeland or, conversely, that the respondent’s country is seen as their home. However, the main reference points of the answers give some interesting results. The first two categories of land and locality comprise a total of 124 responses. These answers reject the idea of motherland as defined by state borders and instead place it in the physical environment, one person defining it as “the place of [spiritual] power.” This local, personal “motherland” may be quite small. For example, one respondent answered: “The motherland is an area around which one can walk within one day.”

The next group of categories identifies motherland with blood ties, either within such intimate circles as family or ancestors, or within larger communities, which may evoke imagined communities, such as “narod” [the people]. Together these categories include 101 answers and seem to support Victor Shnirelman’s interpretation of Rodnoverie as a cult of the tribe. However, it may also be portrayed as a “cult of roots,” which is how the Belorussian scholar Mikheeva (2003) has characterized Rodnoverie. If interpreted in this way, the same group can include the 18 answers mentioning cultural and historical traditions as the ultimate meaning of motherland. The answers in this category may reflect a very traditional ethno-nationalism, but they also include such descriptions as “family” or “children,” which again appear to disrupt large, constructed categories such as nation.

Moreover, even though the word “rod” is often translated from Russian as tribe, family or origin, in Rodnoverie discussion its meaning can be wider. In addition to blood ties, it may refer to elective communities such as the Pagan community, or even be understood as a kind of universal force or form of energy that connects all living beings. Perhaps the commonest interpretation is to understand Rod as a god, who is occasionally considered the main god in the Slavic pantheon, although there are disputes about this as well (Gavrilov and Ermakov 2009: 23-35; Anfant’ev 2011: 58). Moreover, as a god, Rod can be understood not solely as Slavic, but as a universal divinity. On the first pages of the journal Rodnoverie, published jointly by the three largest Rodnoverie organizations, the Veles Circle, the USCSNF and the CPT, the leader of the Veles Circle, Il’ya Cherkasov (Veleslav 2009: 5), writes: “Rodnoverie honors the initial Spiritual Union of Mother Nature and Father Rod, Rodnoverie teaches that every human being is a son [sic] of Father Rod and Mother Nature and all living beings are essentially his [sic] kin (rodnye) brothers in One Divine Family.” Interpreted in this way, some of the responses that mentioned the word “rod,” instead of having ethno-nationalist underpinnings, may come closer to the category of cosmopolitanism.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey was the small number of responses which represented a statist (or imperialist) understanding of “motherland,” such as “Russia” or “state.” The low number partially reflects the dissatisfaction with some manifestations of the “official patriotism,” but the respondents also continue the old Russian tradition of patriotism being understood as loyalty to the land or the people, not loyalty to the state or the rulers. In addition, some respondents wished to express their loyalty to a particular historical manifestation of the Russian state (rather than the contemporary one), such as “the historical Russia until the year 1917.” Whereas some respondents identified themselves with “Russian people” or “Russian lands,” others referred to a wider Slavic community as, for example, “the land of Slavs, specific religious views that unite them.” There were also answers which mentioned the “ancestors” without connecting them to any geographical area or ethnicity.

The low number of responses which associate “motherland” with the state of Russia can be interpreted as demonstrating a weakness of civic nationalism within Rodnoverie, especially if juxtaposed with such answers as “the people,” “the tribe” or “the land and blood,” which bear ethno- nationalist connotations. However, the relative unpopularity of state patriotism may also reveal a preference to identify oneself with the Pagan community rather than the category of Russian citizens; thus being a Pagan is a kind of “diasporic identity,” a separate community, as expressed by the respondent for whom the rodina was “the whole Pagan Rus.” Here it should be noted that in such answers, “our Paganism” was predominantly defined as the tradition of Slavs or “our ancestors,” and the survey responses included no explicit references to Pagans as a global community. However, some answers, such as the idea of rodina being a place which can be found anywhere, may imply a more globalist understanding of the “Pagan community.”

The notion of diasporic identity manifests itself in many ways in Rodnoverie. From the outset of the movement, Rodnoverie leaders and popular authors have tended to regard active societal participation as a specifically Pagan virtue, in contrast to more otherworldly oriented religions. At the same time, they have constructed the idea of a Pagan community with its own traditions, history and myths. There have even been plans and projects to found separate residential areas or villages for Pagans. One of the grand old men of Rodnoverie, Dobroslav (Aleksei Dobrovolskii), settled in the remote countryside, intending to gather other Pagans with their families in the area. Although this vision of a “Pagan village” around Dobroslav never materialized, for almost two decades Dobroslav’s difficult-to-reach cottage became a place of pilgrimage for many Rodnovers. Since then, some Pagan villages have been founded in less remote areas in Russia. Another strain in the construction of a distinctly Pagan community is the more or less detailed blueprints for a Pagan state (e.g. Shizhenskii 2014: 49-80).

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