Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Three Post-Crimea Moves on the Russian Federation Nationalities Front

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – That Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea has re-ordered the international landscape is now common ground as countries around the world recalibrate their foreign policies in the face of what appears to be a fait accompli. But this annexation is also having a dizzying impact on the Russian Federation’s own nationalities.

            Indeed, in addition to the ramping up of Kremlin-defined nationalism among ethnic Russians, Vladimir Putin’s moves in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine are leading many of the non-Russians and some sub-ethnic groups among the Russian ethnos to rethink who they are and what they want.

            Among these changes in the last few days, three are particularly worthy of notice: a Karelian demand for the end of Moscow’s occupation of their republic, the appearance of a Chuvash website that monitors the balance between Russian and Chuvash language use, and the promotion of an alternative regionally-based identity for ethnic Russians.

              On Sunday, Karelian regionals launched an online petition drive for the proclamation of the restoration of the Ukhta Democratic Republic which was created in 1920 and for an end to Russian genocide of the Karelian nation (nazaccent.ru/content/11332-karelskie-regionalisty-potrebovali-provozglasheniya-uhtinskoj-demokraticheskoj.html).

            The petition calls on the international community to help return sovereignty to the Ukhta Democratic Republic via support for a referendum on that question.  As Nazaccent.ru notes in reporting this, activists in St. Petersbur and Kaliningrad have issued similar appeals since Moscow orchestrated the so-called referendum in Crimea.

            Supporters of these moves, the site says, do not expect to win their case but they do hope to show that “in Russia, referenda do not work.” 

            Meanwhile, in Chuvashia, a Christian Turkic republic in the Middle Volga, Chuvash activists have published 700 photographs on a new site, pertanlah.livejournal.com/78453.html, designed to show that officials are violating the law and not treating Chuvash equally with Russian in public places (irekle.org/news/i1815.html).

            “Pertanlah,” which in Chuvash means “equality,” said that the new site will post additional pictures in the future to raise public awareness about the ways in which officials are promoting the displacement of the national language by Russian in “systematic violation” of Russian Federation and Chuvash Republic law.

            And finally and perhaps most importantly over the longer term, a writer on the Sibpower.com portal argued yesterday that “the Ruses [Rusy or Rusichi] are the only indigenous people of Russia,” not the ethnic or non-ethnic Russians [russkiye or rossiyane] as defined by Moscow, and that the Rus must invoke their constitutional right and proclaim that term as their national identity (sibpower.com/novosti/rusichi-i-rus-sibirskaja.html).

            The Rus, he says, must then “create Rus autonomies” as the first step in a process to recover their national dignity and to form “a Land of the Rus.” among these autonomies, he suggests, would be the Autonomy of the Rusichi of Siberia, the Autonomy of the Rusichi of the Urals, and so on.

            This is not just a matter of names, he argues, but rather of national survival because Moscow has transformed the Ruses into Russians of its own definition and it is they, deprived of their memory, who back the war against other Ruses, in this case, the Ukrainians. “Kyivan Rus,” he says, “was transformed into Ukraine, while Moscow Rus became the aggressive Soviet Moscovia.”

            Before tsars and commissars intervened, the Rus ideologist says, those now calling themselves Ukrainians and those now calling themselves Russians, ethnic or otherwise, were not on opposite sides of the barricades. Consequently, the only way to overcome this division is to return to an understanding of the Rus-ness of both.

            In the Russian Federation today, he suggests, the Soviet mentality still dominates and it would be appropriate to call its residents “Soviet or in general Muscovites, for today Moscow controls all policy without taking into account the interests of the remaining peoples and regions of Russia.”

            Moscow today prohibits the appearance of parties with Rus in the title. It prohibits regional parties.  And consequently, “today we see Moscow’s obvious colonial policy toard other Russian regions.”  Those carrying out such imperialist policies “cannot be called Rusichi or Ruses! They are Muscovites or Rossiyane.”

            The only way forward, he argues, is by “the decentralization of Muscovite power” and the rise of Rus autonomies that can then form a new union, a view of Russians and Russian nationalism completely at odds with Putin’s and just one more way in which the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea is echoing across the Russian Federation.

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