Staunton, June 22 – Everyone who studies the post-Soviet space is aware of the conflicts between those who want to speak of an ethnic Russian nation (russkaya natsiya) and those who seek to create a non-ethnic civic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya) as a broader and more inclusive group.
And some are aware that in the run-up to the adoption of the Brezhnev constitution, there were moves in several non-Russian republics, most prominently in Kazakhstan, to recast their residents as civic nations rather than ethnic ones and to have the new basic law reflect what they saw as a new reality in which people regardless of ethnicity would identify with a place.
Now an intense debate has broken out in Kyrgyzstan about whether that country is about to shift from an ethnic to a civic nation given that Bishkek appears committed to eliminating the nationality line in passports later this year with some viewing such a change as an attack on the Kyrgyz nation and others viewing it as something normal or even a means of national salvation.
Six months ago, officials at the State Registration Service said that the new Kyrgyzstan passports to be issued in the second half of 2016 would not contain a nationality line which would in the minds of some leave them without a way to declare and maintain ethnic identity (evs.gezitter.com/society/51027_ruki_proch_ot_grafyi_natsionalnost_kyirgyiz_v_pasporte/).
Most of those quoted by Bishkek’s “Fabula press” oppose the move and say that it represents an attack on their membership in an ethnic nation and on “the face” of their country in the world. A few support the idea as a necessary step to integrate non-Kyrgyz into the citizenry of that Central Asian country.
But some on both sides of the issue offer perspectives which may be more important in terms of identity and identity politics there than any decision about dropping or keeping the nationality line in the passports international or domestic people there carry (gezitter.org/society/51231_nujno_li_izmenit_v_pasporte_grafu_natsionalnost_kyirgyiz_na_kyirgyizstanets/).
A local journalist says that the nationality line should be kept with ethnic Kyrgyz able to declare their ethnic identity there. All non-Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, in contrast, should be required to fill in that line as “Kyrgyzstantsy,” that is, as citizens of Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, a social activist there says that it is “a delicate matter” to drop the line and that officials should not just announce that this will happen but discuss it with the population before doing anything. And another participant in the debate calls for splitting the difference and giving both sides something.
Under his plan, the nationality line would be eliminated in passports issued for foreign travel but be retained for domestic passports that citizens have to show at workplaces and the like.