Thursday, January 7, 2016

Will ‘Politically Russian’ Become a New Demographic Category?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 7 – To cover the demographic decline of the Russian nation and to provide another ideological meme to advance Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world,” a Moscow analyst has suggested a new category that he says forms half of the non-Russians of the Russian Federation.

            These are “the politically Russian,” Stanislav Smagin writes in “Izvestiya, and include those who identify with the Russian nation on a political basis even though they are nominally part of other nationalities like Kazan Tatars or Buryats and have up to now declared themselves to be members of those communities (

            This attempt to square the circle between ethnic Russians (“Russkiye”) and non-ethnic Russians (“Rossiyane”) as Moscow officials routinely call all citizens of the Russian Federation is of course a threat to non-Russian minorities because some officials are likely to pick up on this and demand non-Russians show their loyalty by declaring that they are “politically Russian.”

            But this term could easily backfire on its authors because as even Smagin acknowledges, half of the non-Russians in the Russian Federation are not “politically Russian” and thus would seem to qualify for special consideration or even the provision of the opportunity to form their own independent states.

            Because of that danger, there is probably little chance that this term will be accepted formally by the Putin regime. But the very fact that it has been put forward in a major Moscow newspaper means that it may have a life of its own, one that in some cases might work for the Kremlin and in others very much against its interests.

            Smagin advances this notion in an article entitled “Political Russians Against Ethnocrats” that is devoted to the case of Rais Suleymanov, an ethnic Tatar who has offended many Kazan Tatars and Muslims by his suggestions that Tatarstan is now under the control of those who back the Wahhabis and other radical Islamist groups.

            Suleymanov’s problems with the Tatarstan authorities came to a head on December 30 when he was arrested and charged with extremism because of materials he had put out. A day later he was fined 1500 rubles (21 US dollars) and released. But this case has agitated Russian nationalists and analysts like Smagin.

            According to him, the fine itself – “a relatively symbolic sum” – reflects a dangerous trend, something Smagin would be unlikely to say about similar moves by the Russian authorities against those they oppose, and thus must become the occasion for Russians, ethnic and political, to wake up to the dangers such actions by non-Russians pose.

            “The conflict provoked by the Kazan ethnocrats,” Smagin writes, “and the departure of Tatars from Russians would become an unthinkable tragedy for both peoples. Tatars are traditionally close and friendly to Russians … and one can even say that Tatars in their majority are political Russians” [“politicheski russkiye”].

            “Their Islam is extremely peaceful and often plays the role more of a cultural marker than a real religious factor,” Smagin continues. Indeed, he writes, “the average Kazan Tatar is no more distinguished from the average Orthodox or secular Russian from Moscow than is a Russian evangelical or a Buddhist in the spirit of B.B. Grebenshchikov.”

            “There is absolutely no reason to divide us,” Smagin says; but “alas, some in Kazan consider that the issue of division exists.” They must be opposed before it is too late, before “the rickety construction of our state, divided by internal and external causes begins to collapse. In short, Russians must end their “passivity and shortsightedness” before that happens.

            In the 1990s, Russia almost became a confederation, a move that would ultimately have led to the disintegration of the country, he continues. Fortunately, “in 1999-2000, this sad development of events was slowed down. But as we see today, it was not stopped.”  And then he gives his prescription for how to do just that.

            “Ethnically, Russians in the Russian Federation are more than 80 percent of the population. With the addition of the politically Russian” – and Smagin says he hopes that Suleyanov won’t be “offended” by being included “in their ranks, this figure, [he] suggests, will rise above 90 percent.”

            The other ten percent, although small in number have “serious resources” including support from abroad, Smagin says, and they “are committing state crimes of a historical scale.”  Closing one’s eyes to that reality, he concludes, is not much better than a co-conspirator in this process.

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