Staunton, December 17 – Members of the Presidential Council of Inter-Ethnic Relations are preparing school textbooks to promote the Kremlin’s vision of “a non-ethnic Russian nation,” an effort that is likely to offend both Russian nationalists and non-Russian residents of the country and that some observers suggest will not by itself prove effective.
Last week, the Presidential Council announced that it will use school texts to support “the formation of the self-consciousness of [non-ethnic] Russians as a single nation,” “Izvestiya” reported, noting that two members of that Kremlin group, Valery Tishkov and Raamazan Abdulatipov, have already published such textbooks (izvestia.ru/news/541428
Abdulatipov, who now serves as a United Russia Duma deputy, has prepared his book in a multi-media format and devoted many of its pages to the enormous diversity of people in the Russian Federation, discussing their specific characteristics, their religions, and their non-religious traditions
The emphasis of Tishkov’s book is somewhat different. He sees his task as showing and explaining that “the [non-ethnic] Russian people are one.” “For 20 years,” he told the daily, he has been “working on developing a concept of the [non-ethnic] Russian people as a multi-ethnic civic nation. Even the youngest must have a vision of their motherland as a single whole.”
Alena Arshinova, a member of the Duma’s education committee, says that introducing such elements into the curriculum is extremely important, “but it is important that [any such course] be an elective and that children not be forced to study national culture” lest that compulsion drive them away.
But many commentators are skeptical that this program will work. Andrey Piontkovsky, the director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Research, argues that such “’national’” lessons “will not help correct the catastrophe which has taken place in our country” however “theoretically based” they may be.
“Russia’s problems in this regard have gone so far that they cannot be resolved by lessons however well-intentioned .. As long as Caucasians and Russians do not start feeling themselves as members not only of one country but of one community with common values, lessons about nationality policy in the schools will not bring any results.”
Although “Izvestiya” does not mention this, there is only one certainty. This proposal and especially Tishkov’s association with it guarantees public opposition. Most Russian nationalists see the ethnographer as trying to impose an American-style society on Russia and thus will attack this idea vigorously.
And most non-Russians will see this measure with its stress on oneness as an attack on their cultures and political status and a covert effort to Russianize them, whatever Tishkov or Abdulatipoc say. As a result, this latest effort to promote a common identity end by having just the opposite effect.