Monday, September 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russians Feel Oppressed, Fear Disintegration as a Nation, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Many ethnic Russians today feel that they are second-class citizens compared to members of other groups, that their nation faces disintegration into a number of sub-groups, and that the government should restore the nationality line in passports and other documents, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In an interview posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, Mikhail Remizov, commenting on the recently published Politex poll on the “Nationality Question in Social-Political Life,” says that such attitudes may seem “strange” if one considers the position Russians appear to occupy (

            Today, the president of the Moscow Institute of National Strategy says, “Russians form about 80 percent of the population, the Russian language is the state language, and Russians form the central part of the ruling bureaucracy,” qualities that one would think would make Russians feel self-confident.

            But there are real reasons that they feel otherwise, Remizov says.  Given “the weakness of government institutions,” those who belong to tightly organized social and ethnic groups such a minority nationalities have advantages and often win out.  That is especially true when social conflicts intensify. 

            This pattern is reinforced by the administrative-territorial organization of the country, one in which “practically all the major peoples of Russia have their own statehood,” except for the Russians.  It is “no secret that the [governments] of the national republics seek the realization of ethnic interests and priorities” and that they support their nations in Moscow as well.

            But there is more at work than that, Remizov continues.  “At present, in the Russian ethnos, centrifugal forces dominate over centripedal ones.” Russians have “an intuitive sense” that their ethnos is falling into pieces and that they need to hold it together by “fixing ethnic identity in documents.”

            “One could say that this is an unconscious reaction to the strengthening of alternative identities, such as when Russian people “begin to define themselves as ‘Cossacks,’ ‘Pomors,’ ‘Siberians,’ and so on.” According to Remizov, such identities should “supplement the Russian, but in fact they are replacing it.”

            This trend is also manifest in cases of mixed marriage when the offspring choose not to identify as Russians but as non-Russians because that is a more attractive choice and carries with it “certain privileges.”  Although the Moscow expert doesn’t say so, this represents a radical change from the Soviet period.

            Vasily Vankov of “Svobodnaya pressa” also spoke with Valery Rashkin, first deputy chairman of the Duma’s Committee on Nationality Affairs, and Valery Solovey, a professor at MGIMO and a Russian nationalist activist, about such attitudes among the country’s ethnic Russian majority.

            Rashkin said that many of these attitudes reflect the actions or more precisely the inaction of the state: according to him, the authorities find it useful to “play on the feelings of the ethnic Russian but not to do anything specific for him.”  As a result and to promote a “’war of all against all,’ the elite is seeking to cut the Russian people off from its historical roots.”
                Over the centuries, he says,  the Russian people assembled around itself other nationalities, defended them, and saved them from destruction and genocide. Unfortuantely, the current regime doesn’t need a unifying factor. It operates instead according to the principle of ‘divide and rule.’”

            Solovey, for his part, says that many of the problems of the ethnic Russians reflect the coming together of social and national interests.  Russians today see that those who are winning out in the current system, regardless of what its leaders say, are in fact members of other ethnic groups.

            That sense is having “a cumulative effect,” he suggests, and will in the future lead to “a most powerful explosion of dissatisfaction,” one that will be directed not only against other ethnic groups butalso against the authorities who “in their opinion” created the problem or at least failed to address it.
“If the powers that be do not want such a force to take shape in a spontaneous and uncontrolled way,” Solovey says, “they must cease viewing the [Russian] people as an inexhaustible reservoir of resources” for themselves and instead begin to listen to and act on ethnic Russian concerns.

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