Staunton, December 2 – Anastaya Mitrofanova, a specialist on church-state relations at Moscow’s Russian Orthodox University, is calling for legislation that would deprive “titular” nations of the non-Russian republics of any special rights on their territories, a move that would effectively suppress these republics even if their names remained on the map.
Her article last week is a direct response to efforts by Tatarstan to retain the office of president, something that is supported by the Moscow-Kazan power sharing agreement but contradicted by a Russian law specifying that there can be only one president in the Russian Federation (regions.ru/news/2566269/).
But more than that, it appears to be an effort to make an end run around the obstacles that had effectively blocked Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation campaign, an effort that has stalled after eliminating most but not all of the so-called “matryoshka” republics by combining smaller non-Russian regions with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones.
Mitrofanova writes that “from Soviet tiems, we have subjects of the Russian Federation which are consider national and those which are not considered that. For example, Kursk oblast is not a national subject, but the Republic of Tatarstan is. In addition, there exist so-called ‘titular nations.’”
“At times, they do not represent even a majority of the population in the republics, [but] nevertheless, the leaders of these regions insist on their ‘specialness.’ We are a titular nation and we must have special rights and privileges … in a democratic state there cannot be any special rights connected with ethnicity -- except for numerically small indigenous peoples.”
“I think,” Mitrofanova says, “the authorities must act much more harshly” against these republics than they have in the past “because one need not fear ‘the separation of Tatarstan’ as it is surrounded on all sides by the territory of the Russian Federation and does not have any external borders.”
But more generally, she continues, the entire “system of ‘titular ethnoses’ should be done away with.” The elites in these republics exploit this and thus create “a favorable field for the exacerbation of ethnic conflicts, against which of course, it is necessary to struggle.”
As it often does when it posts an article on a controversial issue, the Regions.ru portal has surveyed the opinion of religious leaders and experts on the question of ending the status of “titular nation” in the non-Russian republics (regions.ru/news/2566644/). Their answers may surprise some.
On the one hand, and as expected, Muslim leaders generally oppose doing away with this status. But on the other, so too do Russian Orthodox clergy, some because they fear it would destabilize the country and others because they very much want to see ethnic Russians as the titular nationality of the country as a whole. Doing away with the status would make that hard to achieve.
But one of those interviewed, Roman Silantyev, long notorious for his attacks on Muslim leaders and currently the executive director of the Human Rights Center of the World Russian Popular Assembly, is enthusiastically in favor of the idea. And his backing, given his ties to Patriarch Kirill and the Kremlin suggest that those at the highest levels may agree.
Silantyev says that he “completely agrees” with Mitrofanova’s proposal. Any status for “titular” nations is “a survival of the past from Lenin’s times. Even Stalin was against special authority being given to national formations.” And now it is time to shift from dividing the country along ethnic lines and instead do so on a territorial basis as was the tsarist empire.
All the federal subjects, he argues, “should have equal obligations and rights,” so that none of them can argue as Tatarstan now is that it must have special privileges. And there is an even more important reason for doing away with “titular” nations as a status: Why should non-Russians have them but Russians not?