Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia Must Stop Relying on Soviet and Western Answers to the Nationality Question and Use Tsarist Ones Instead, RISI Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 14 – For too long, the director of the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Investigations Says, the Russian Federation has used “either the experience of Western countries which it has attempted to copy” or “consciously or unconsciously” the Soviet experience in its efforts to cope with nationality problems.

            But neither has been effective because each ignores Russia’s special features, Leonid Reshetnikov says, and consequently, to move forward in this area Russia must seek answers to the nationality question by drawing on the experience of the pre-1917 Russian Empire (ruskline.ru/analitika/2014/01/13/nacionalnyj_vopros_v_institute_strategicheskih_issledovanij/).

            The RISI director made this comment at a December conference held by his institute as part of an ongoing effort to prepare an analytic note for the Presidential Administration and specifically the PA’s Domestic Policy branch. Consequently, his words and those of other participants are likely to have a direct impact on Kremlin policy.

            Three things stand out about their comments: First, most argued the strength of the Russian Empire lay in the center’s willingness to treat different parts of the empire differently. Second, most suggested that the country’s diversity remains very much alive. And third, most argued that Russian Orthodoxy even more than the Russian language could unite the country.

            In his speech, Reshetnikov argued that “the problem of nationality policy today is that we ethnic Russians have lost our face. The Russian man cannot be as we see him now. He must be strong, whole and a believer ... [or] there will not be a multi-national Russia [because] no one will respect us.”

            And he recalled that a Chechen general had told him: “If you have a White tsar and God, we will all stand alongside you and go forward together.”  But unfortunately, the RISI director said, “the majority of the Russian people does not have a tsar in their heads or a cross in their souls.”

            Instead, he continued, “we have all kinds of patriots – rightwing patriots, leftwing Stalinists, national democrats, and liberal patriots but there are no Russian people. Russia is waiting for a renaissance of the Russian people!”

            A second speaker, Andrey Yershov, the rector of the Kazan Institute for Economics and Anti-Crisis Administration, said that the Russian Empire had used a diverse arsenal of means to hold the country together, treating different regions differently rather than insisting that all of them fit in a common Procrustean bed.

            That was helped by the inclusion of non-Russians into the Russian nobility and the Russian military class, he said. But after the Bolshevik revolution, nationality became more not less important in people’s lives and that led to growing tensions between nations and the outflow of ethnic Russians from Tatarstan and other republics.

            As a result, Yershov said, today, in most republics, “the titular nation’s share of the ruling elite is significantly higher than that of ethnic Russians,” largely because over the 20 years of the existence of the Russian Federation, Moscow has continued to follow “a Leninist policy which gives preference to non-Russian cadres.”

            According to the Kazan scholar, there are at least five times of nationalism among the peoples of the Russian Federation: classical nationalism as in Chechnya, parity nationalism which seeks a balance, economic nationalism as in Tatarstan and Sakha, defensive nationalism which tries to preserve the titular culture, and modernizing nationalism which seeks to transform a people into a modern nation.

            There is also another kind of nationalism, Yershov said, which may be called “ruling” or “velvet” nationalism.  It consists of the manipulation of census data by republic elites in order to suggest that their nations constitute a larger share of the population than in fact they do and thus are more deserving of the best positions.

            A third speaker, Petr Mintaturi, a researcher at RISI’s Center for Humanitarian Research, said that the Russian Empire lasted precisely because it had “a divine and sacral super-idea,” something which the Russian Federation today has lost, and because the tsar represented Orthodoxy but deeply respected other faiths.

             And finally a fourth speaker, Firdus Devbash, who has replaced Rais Suleymanov as head of the Kazan Regional Center of RISI for Ethno-Religious Research, argued that the religious culture of Russians rather than their language was the basis of the state, something that has always set Russia apart from Europe.

                Devbash said that St. Petersburg’s tolerance for ethnic multiplicity was also a source of the Empire’s strength and that Aleksandr III imposition of a common system of gubernias on the country became “one of the causes of the fall of the autocracy” because it made appeals to national self-determination attractive.

            He concluded by quoting Nikolay Ilminsky, the 19th century Kazan University scholar who promoted the spread of Orthodoxy to non-Russian groups, who observed that “the only true path for the solution of the nationality question in Russia is the integration of indigenous peoples through religious unification.”

            Many non-Russian groups may be pleased by RISI’s advocacy of a diverse approach to their status within the country, something at odds with the policies Vladimir Putin has pursued up to now, but they are certain to be leery of a new Ilminsky system that would represent a clear threat to their faiths and thus to their national uniqueness.

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