Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Creating a Civic Russian Nation Will Be as Difficult as Creating the Soviet People Was, Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Creating a civic Russian nation will be just as complicated and difficult was the creation of the Soviet people before 1991, according to a United Russia deputy. As a result, Moscow must stress those things that the various ethnic groups of the country have in common rather than highlighting their differences and thus interfere with this process.

            Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma commission on constitutional law and state construction, made these comments today in the course of a discussion of a proposal by a KPRF deputy to restore the nationality line in the passports of the citizens of the Russian Federation (nr2.ru/moskow/435714.html).

                The United Russia deputy said that the Russian government remains committed to the creation of “a single [non-ethnic] Russian nation” and thus opposes the erection of “any additional criteria” such as nationality and its mention in official documentation that could divide the citizens of the Russian Federation.”
            And he noted that just as “the process of the formation of a single Soviet people was most complicated,” so too will be the process of forming a [non-ethnic] Russian nation.” And therefore, “we must work on unifying things” rather than on continuing to divide them in any way.
            Judging by the reaction of the deputies, Novy Region2 reported, the advocates of the restoration of a nationality line in the passport do not have the votes to pass it. But the proposal to do so, offered by Tamara Plentnyova, a KPRF deputy, nonetheless shows how sensitive this issue remains.
            Unlike many advocates of the nationality line in the past and more recently who have viewed it as a defense of the status of the minority nationalities, Plentnyova argued that the re-insertion of a nationality line in fact would help defend ethnic Russians against discrimination in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation.
            The Communist deputy added in support of her argument that the Russian Federation still does not have a law on passports – it relies on a presidential decree and a government order – and that Article 26 of the 1993 Russian Constitution specifies that “no one can deprive the right of a citizen to nationality.”
            And she said that her proposal would add not only a nationality line to the Russian passport but include the individual’s tax number and blood group.  But she acknowledged that the opposition of the government and hence of the ruling United Russia Party to the measure means that it won’t pass.

            When the Duma considered the issue of the numerically small peoples of the North not long ago, Plentnyova said, people asked “what peoples” are you talking about? “We don’t have a nationality in the passport?!”  But this lack affects “above all the ethnic Russians because they are the majority and in their own country don’t have a nationality.”

            As a new version of the Soviet people, Plentnyova said, we all “understand” that it “didn’t exist.” Consequently, restoring something like it isn’t a real option but only a propagandistic trick. And some non-Russian republics, like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, have come up a special nationality page to be inserted in the passports of their citizens.  Her proposal, she concluded, would simply level the playing field.

.           Even though her proposal for a nationality line is not going to pass, Plentnyova’s proposal is likely to reignite debate on this issue for three reasons. First, by drawing a parallel between the Soviet people and the non-ethnic Russian nation, her position will provide aid and comfort to those who oppose the latter idea as a warmed over version of the former.

            Second, by suggesting that the ethnic Russians need such a line in the face of non-Russian challenges, Plentnyova is likely to insert this idea into the discourse of Russian nationalists by providing them with one for reason for opposing the policies of the current Russian government.

            And third, for both reasons, her remarks are certain to lead more non-Russians to worry about the consequences for themselves of the creation of a non-ethnic Russian nation and lead more of them to consider steps like those taken by Kazan and Ufa already, a development that could intensify rather than reduce inter-ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation.

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