Saturday, January 21, 2017

‘People Ready to Die for Their Identities’ – Civic Nation Idea in Russia Could Spark Civil War as It Did in Ukraine, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – In its push for the creation of a civic Russian identity which plays down ethnicity, a Moscow commentator says, the Putin regime appears to have forgotten how important identities are to people and that Russians in Russia like Russians in Ukraine are “prepared to suffer losses or even death” to defend them, even to the point of civil war.

            In the latest issue of “Literaturnaya Rossiya,” often a mouthpiece for Russian nationalist thinking, Natalya Makeeva offers the most serious warning yet about what the imposition from above of a civic Russian national identity could mean by drawing a comparison with that in the Donbass (

            She points out something that she says many in Moscow don’t want to recognize: “the long-suffering Donbass” did not revolt when things were tough in the 1990s or when later it was subject to what she calls “’creeping Ukrainianization.’”  It only rose “when the Kyiv ‘Maidan’ proclaimed a new Ukrainian reality, the establishment of ‘a Ukrainian political nation.’”

            In Makeeva’s telling, “Crimea fled from this reality as did the Donetsk and Luhansk peoples republics and literally a few days ago the Rusins and Lviv which is closer to Poland and most likely with the completion of the collapse of the former Ukraine will join” that NATO country.

            As far as Russia is concerned, she continues, it is as Konstantin Leontyev said, “a flourishing imperial collection of ethnoses, peoples and cultures, the strategic unity in multiplicity.”  In such a country, talk about a civic national identity common for all is far more dangerous than many think.

            “And if we want to avoid the disintegration of Russia, we must not build a civic Russian nation and not drive the various ethnoses into ‘Russiannness’ but go in the opposite direction, toward an Empire by strengthening its unity by doing away with [the non-Russian republics and their  institutions].”

            Everyone must acknowledge, Makeeva says, that “Russia always was and however strange it may sound to some remains to this day.”  If that is ignored and if [Russia] proceeds along the path of civic Russianness, we will get a war much more terrible than the conflict in Novorossiya.”

                Makeeva’s words, however overblown and incorrectly focused they may seem, recall the conclusion of the great Russian √©migr√© historian Igor Kurganov who more than a half century ago warned in his book “The Nations of the USSR and the Russian Question,” that what really matters in that country is not what the non-Russians do but rather how the Russians react.

Moscow’s New ‘Spatial Development Policy’ Sparks Hopes and Fears in the Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – A new “Strategy for the Spatial Development of the Russian Federation” is raising hopes for better coordination among existing regions, greater investment and infrastructure in the eastern part of the country, and helping Russia escape its current economic crisis by making it more competitive internationally.

            But it is also sparking fears outside of Moscow that it may ultimately lead to a new push for the political amalgamation of existing federal subjects and that it may create more chaos by creating yet another layer of bureaucracy between the center, the federal districts and the oblasts, krays and republics of the country.

            The new strategy is still under development by the Ministry for Economic Development, but yesterday, “Izvestiya” reported on an experts meeting in Suzdal where many of its provisions were outlined and concerns about them were aired ( and, with additional details,

            As outlined by ministry representatives, the new strategy document gives priority to development of the “geostrategically important territories” of the Far East, the Arctic Zone, the North Caucasus, Kaliningrad, and Russian-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol; and it calls for the creation of economic “macro-regions.”

            Both domestic and foreign developments dictate these goals, the authors of the document said; and many of the experts in attendance welcomed the fact that Moscow had finally come up with a new spatial development plan. 

            Anton Finogenov, the head of the Moscow Institute for Territorial Planning, said that over the last century, Russia has gone through three major reorderings of its territories: under Stolypin before the revolution, in the 1930s, and since the 1980s; and it is long past time to put things in better order.
            “The existing spatial system is ineffective as far as the budget, the health of the population, military security, and the exploitation of natural resources,” he said; and “a certain balance is necessary between a project-based approach and simply allowing spontaneous tendencies to continue.”

            The existing federal districts, Finogenov pointed out, vary widely both demographically and economically, something that is “no secret for anyone” but which must become the basis for planning rather than something simply accepted as natural and inevitable.

            According to “Izvestiya,” the draft document outlines three possible scenarios: first, a conservative one in which few changes would be made to existing arrangements, a second one based on “competitive growth” among the regions that presupposes that they will be open to the outside world, and a third in which Moscow helps structure what the regions do.

            Natalya Zubarevich, head of regional programs at the Independent Institute for Social Policy, said that it is “premature” to discuss the document because it hasn’t been finalized.  Just what “macro-regions” would consist of is likely to change over time, she argued, and so people shouldn’t get agitated about their possible meaning. Finogenov agreed.

            But that hasn’t stopped people in the regions from worrying – although their concerns were reported only in the regional news agency Nakanune rather than in “Izvestiya.”  Many are fearful, Nakanune reported, that the macro-regions will be the basis for amalgamating more federal subjects, but other regional experts are less certain of that.

            Dmitry Serov of the Urals Experts Club told the regional news service that the existing federal districts were created to fight regional separatism and they have performed that job well; but they have been unable to improve the coordination of economic activities within the districts and need additional levers to do that.

            The economic macro-regions may be nothing more than an addition to the powers of the presidential plenipotentiaries, but even if the cut across them, Serov says, they will not necessarily be the basis for any new amalgamation effort.  What they will help promote, he suggested, are more economically powerful regions.

            Vladimir Sysoyev, a deputy from Tyumen, said that in many ways he thinks that any new macro-regions will represent a kind of reconstitution of regional bodies like the Siberian Agreement of the 1990s. If he is right, that cuts both ways: On the one hand, the region benefitted; on the other, Moscow felt threatened by such groups.

            And Mikhail Serdyuk, a former Duma deputy from Yugra, said that what all this about arises from the fact that “the trends in the economy are already ‘eating away’ at the borders between the governments and the subjects” of the Russian Federation, something he said that should be encouraged rather than restricted.

            “The unification of oblasts will not accelerate but on the contrary will freeze this process,” he said, because “all the administrative power beginning with the municipalities and ending with the regional bureaucrats for a year or more will be focused simply on putting their desks in order.”

            Serdyuk suggested that Russia doesn’t have enough time to waste on such exercises.

Russian Efforts to Force Muslim Minorities to Assimilate Leading Many to Become Islamist Radicals, Iskhakov Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – The pressures Moscow is now applying to Tatars and other Muslim minorities to learn  Russian and assimilate is having an unintended and unwelcome consequence, Damir Iskhakov warns. By cutting these peoples loose from their traditional cultural moorings, Moscow is opening the way for many to become Islamist radicals.

            Speaking at recent meeting of the Third Capital Club in the Tatarstan capital reported today on the Russkaya liniya portal, the Kazan historian said that “the assimilation of the Tatars not only linguistically but with the loss of ethnic self-consciousness frequently leads Tatars to become Wahhabis” (

            As some do not appear to understand, “a health ethnic self-consciousness permits the Tatars to defend against the influence of Wahhabism;” and thus Moscow’s assimilationist policy is having exactly the opposite effect on national unity and stability than the one its authors routinely claim.

            The Kazan historian said he grew up in a mixed Russian-Tatar village and thus understands how both Russians and Tatars feel about language and identity.  And he argued that if one examines how Russians have organized their relations with the Volga Tatars, one can see how they want to do so with other ethnic communities.

            “The Tatars,” Iskhakov said, “are in terms of religion part of Islamic civilization, but at the same time they are also part of Russian civilization, although not completely so.”  And he stressed that “Muslims will not be able to cooperate with other peoples” if the latter view them as subordinate. Relations must be based on equality.

            According to the Kazan historian, “Russians want to see Russia as an ethnic Russian nation state.”  As a Tatar nationalist, he continued, he “sees the present policy in the country as an effort to form a civic Russian nation with one state language” as a move toward “the assimilation of the non-Russian peoples.”

            In the course of his remarks, Iskhakov, who was a member of the nationalist Tatar Social Center from 1988 to 1882 before breaking with it and becoming a leader of the World Congress of Tatars, recalled that in the early 1990s, there were discussions in Kazan about “dividing Tatarstan into two parts, a Russian and a Tatar,” in order to preserve the Tatar language and avoid angering Russians.

            Although something similar was tried in Bashkortostan, these discussions did not lead anywhere in Tatarstan, although Tatars occasionally recall them and view the idea as one like the arrangements in Belgium where the Flemmish and Walloons live in separate cultural and linguistic areas but within a single state.

            As a result of the failure to move in that direction, Iskhakov said, “today as at the start of the 1990s, the cultural-linguistic space of Tatarstan remains Russian-speaking.” But that does not mean Tatar instruction should be cut back but rather the reverse, so that Russians will be more competitive and so Tatars won’t be radicalized.

            At present, however, the trend is going in the other direction, something that means that while “the Tatars are well acquainted with the Russian world, the Russians know much worse the Tatar world” in which they find themselves.