Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Russian Officials Move to Freeze Out Ethnic Minorities from Regional Legislature

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 9 – Russian officials in the oil-rich Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District are moving to suppress a unique arrangement involving a three-mandate legislative district which was originally created to ensure that the titular nationalities of that district, even though they form barely two percent of the total population nonetheless will be represented.

            The regional legislature’s committee on law and local administration took that decision yesterday and the entire body is expected to give its approval to the change today, according to the news agency ( This move is being obscured by a concurrent decision to increase the size of the regional parliament to 38 seats.

            For many, this may seem an unimportant development, but it is critical for three reasons. First, it represents yet another step away from arrangements in Russian regions and republics left over from Soviet times to ensure that minorities are represented. This “majoritarian” democracy can easily become “totalitarian,” especially where the courts are gelded as in Russia today.

            Second, it is part and parcel of a campaign by Moscow, regional Russian officials, and Russian business to exclude the voices of the numerically small peoples of the North and other regions because such people are often the only ones speaking out against the destruction of the environment in the name of development and profit.

            Over the past several years, Russian officials have moved to take control of or suppress the organizations of these peoples and to arrest or at least harass activists on their behalf. Eliminating their access to elected offices in this way will further isolate and silence some of Russia’s smallest and most at risk nations.

            And third, this action, taken far from Moscow and thus under the radar screen of many observers, will signal to others across the Russian Federation that the Putin regime supports freezing out non-Russians by such measures and thus will encourage officials in the regions and republics to take more steps in this direction.

            That will undoubtedly please some Russian nationalists who would like to see the Russian Federation become simply Russia, but it will infuriate many non-Russians and trigger new and possibly extra-systemic conflicts that the regime will have more difficulty in controlling that it does when it works with the representatives of these groups in official structures.

            But there is  a larger danger as well, one that has been pointed to by Valery Korovin, a sociologist at Moscow State University and a member of Russia’s Social Chamber, in a commentary yesterday contrasting the way in which nationalism might save Europe but could easily destroy Russia (

                Korovin says that many Russians are so intrigued by the idea, widely pedaled by the Kremlin, that right-wing nationalism of the kind offer by France’s Marine Le Pen, for example, is the only thing that can save Europe that they have forgotten how dangerous Russian nationalism can be in the Russian Federation itself.

            “If ethnic Russians in Russia declare that it is necessary to construct an ethnic Russian political nation, they will be throwing out challenges to all other identities and there are a multitude of them. Russian civic political identity dissolves all into a melting pot of a civic political nation, together with the Russian people.”

            The response to this, he continues, is that some Russians want to form “their own ethnic Russian political nation.” But if they do that, then others will want to do the same. The Tatars, for example, will say ‘we then will create a Tatar political nation.’ And the Bashkirs will declare that ‘we too will create a Bashkir political nation.’”

            “And the Yakuts will say the same, and the Chechens will declare that we will create a Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.”  All of that, Korovin says, “will split apart Russia as a united state” and that means that “nationalism in Russia where identity is displayed in all its fullness is a threat to the existence of [that] state.”

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