Thursday, September 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: To Defend Their Rights, Ethnic Russians Must Act Like an Ethnic Minority or Restructure the State, Moscow Lawyer Says

Paul Goble

             Staunton, September 5 – Under current conditions, a Moscow lawyer says, ethnic Russians have a cruel choice if they are to defend their rights: They must either begin to act like an ethnic minority, something many of them would find insulting, or they must restructure the state so that they have “real” and not merely “declarative” equality with other groups.

            In an interview posted on the “Osobaya bukva” portal yesterday, Matvey Tszen, who represents what the portal describes as “a relatively new phenomenon for contemporary Russia, a political lawyer,” makes that argument not only as a legal specialist but as an advocate for the National Democratic Party and its legal defense arm, ROD (

            Easily identifiable at Russian meetings because of his ethnic Chinese visage – one of his four grandparents was Chinese – Tsven says that he is “completely Russian culturally” and completely committed to the cause of equal rights for the ethnic Russian community in all places in the Russian Federation.

            Tsven suggests that his Chinese visage allows him to “hear things” that someone who looks “more Russian” would not, especially from migrant workers.  Unfortunately, he continues, most state agencies such as the E Center and the Moscow force structures consist almost exclusively of ethnic Russians and thus are less effective than they might be.

            The advocate says that he became conscious of his ethnicity earlier than others because he had to make a choice, albeit it was not hard as he never felt himself to be Chinese. Asked who is a Russian, Tsven responded that “this is an individual who is ethnically Russia or who has a significantly ethnic Russian component, who has Russian self-identification and who is accepted by others as a Russian.”

            Pressed by the interviewer on this, Tsven said that this means that “it is possible to be more Russian and also to be less Russian,” at least “from the ethnic point of view.” If someone has ethnically mixed ancestors, what matters most is his or her self-identification, not the specifics of their background.

            An ethnos, he continues, or a nation or a people are “terms which operate not at the level of individuals; they are based on millions and in the case of the Russian people on tens of millions. This is an entire galaxy, in which there are many stars, millions and hundreds of millions, billions, and in correspondence with which the galaxy objectively exists.”

            Where any one star is “at the center of the galaxy or on its periphery” is not a matter of principle relative to the galaxy itself, Tsven argues. “Thus it is with each individual: some are closer to the ethnic nucleus of the Russian people, some are further away, but all together we form a Russian galaxy.”
Asked the now traditional question “Who is Mr. Tsven?” the lawyer replies that he is by training a lawyer and an advocate, by conviction a Russian nationalist in the broad sense and a national democrat in the narrower one, a rights activist, and a politician who served as a deputy in a local legislature.

This combination, he says, “did not interfere” with his work in any one area; instead, “it helped. Consequently, Tsven says he is very much opposed to new legislation that would prevent lawyers from playing these multiple roles, legislation he cannot really imagine being applied given that many senior Russian leaders are lawyers by training. Such proposals are simply acts of intimidation.

Asked about what many Russians see as “double standards” in the judicial system that result in lighter sentences for non-Russians and heavier ones for Russians, Tsven suggests that he does not think that judges and investigators in the main are driven by the feelings that such a term suggests.

“Skinheads really do get heavier sentences but not because they are Russians but because they are skinheads” and thus have political views that are treated as extremist. Caucasians, in contrast, receive lesser sentences “not because they are Caucasians but because with a high probability, their diasporas speak on their behalf, they have good lawyers, and broad support either corrupt or administrative from highly placed people from their regions.”

Ethnic Russians rarely have those advantages, Tsven says. And he suggests there are “two ways out: either to begin to act as a minority, while being really a majority or restructure the state in such a way that equality, not declarative but real will be secured regardless of ethnicity.”

The first of these variants, of course, calls for Russians to become like the North Caucasian, the lawyer says; the second, for them to seek to have a European-style state.

Drawing on that division, Tsven argues that one of the reasons Russians remain so divided is that their violations of the law are defined as extremist and consequently the authorities routinely target these political challenges and thus keep the Russian community from uniting as the others do.

If the Russian powers that be targeted other groups in the same way, they too would be divided and weak.

Tsven says that initially he was a supporter of Vladimir Putin because of the latter’s effort to restore order in Russia, but he became an opponent when he saw that Putin was not moving the country forward or solving its most important problems but rather by inattention or design making many of these problems worse.

The Russian nationalist advocate said what finally led him to become an opponent of Putin was Operation ‘Successor.’ Had Putin allowed two candidates to run to replace him, say Ivanov and Medvedev, with the former “more conservative” and the latter “more liberal,” Russia could have moved in the direction of a two party system.

This would have been “administered democracy, but not in the sense of being a puppet but rather in the sense of a stable one when people could really make a choice but out of a limited circle of possibilities.” But when Putin decided to proceed otherwise, that showed what he was about and cost him Tsven’s support.



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