Staunton, June 17 – Whenever citizens of the Russian Federation have to register with the authorities, according to a draft 48-page justice ministry order, they will be asked their nationality and their answers will be collected in a country-wide data base, thus effectively restoring the notorious Line Five of Soviet-era passports.
Because the Russian Constitution prohibits requiring anyone to declare his or her nationality, the decision to answer is a voluntary one, but in reporting this plan, Vladislav Kulikov of “Rossiiskaya gazeta” says the government needs the data and thus it is “better” to answer (rg.ru/2016/06/16/pri-registracii-braka-budut-sprashivat-dannye-ob-obrazovanii.html).
On the one hand, this order, assuming it is implemented, changes less than meets the eye. Russians have been asked these questions in registration offices since at least 1999, and the country’s parliament passed a law in 2013 legalizing the practice which allows scholars and officials to track ethnic changes in the population.
But on the other, one aspect of the new order is worrisome because of the ways it might be misused. At present, all registration offices are under the control of regional governments and each has maintained its own data base. Now, the Federal Tax Service will gather this data into a single Russian Federation-wide computerized data base.
Depending on who has access to this new data base and what controls might be imposed to limit the dissemination of information about individuals, this new country-wide data base could be used by some officials in the discriminatory way Line Five of Soviet passports was used against Jews and other minorities.
And given the nationalizing impulse which animates much of Vladimir Putin’s approach, this is not the only danger. The existence of such a data base and knowledge among the population about it will almost certainly lead more people in the short run to declare that they are ethnic Russians, the politically correct and preferred answer, even if they are not.