Staunton, November 4 – In expressing the wish that his country have a new law on “the Russian [civic] nation,” Vladimir Putin did not indicate exactly what he would like to see it contain. Unfortunately, Nikolay Mitrokhin, the law is likely to be drafted by FSB-trained lawyers and thus the best hope is that it, like many Putin laws, will remain a dead letter.
The Germany-based Russian specialist on ethnicity and religion draws that conclusion on the basis of a close reading of the transcript of the October 31 meeting at which Putin said he supported the idea of a new law that has now been published by the Kremlin’s website (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53173
graniru.org/opinion/mitrokhin/m.256218.html), noting that the intellectual context of the discussion reflected differences between structuralists like Leokadiya Drobizheva and Valery Tishkov and primordialists like Vladimir Zorin and Aslambek Paskakachev.
But he suggested that far more influential than they were the institutionalist demands of the national-cultural autonomy groups who want a system in which the government will funnel ever more money to them and who were quite pleased to play to Putin’s proclivity for verticals by calling for all regional NCA groups to be subordinate to ones in the center.
And following them, Mitrokhin suggested, was the skilled bureaucratic infighter Vyacheslav Mikhailov, who was “the first and last head of the department for interethnic relations of the CPSU Central Committee and now heads the sector on nationalities and federal relations at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service.
Mikhailov also played to Putin’s approach by suggesting that the current nationality policy strategy paper be adopted as a federal law under the title “On the Russian Nation and the Management of Interethnic Relations and steer the country between the structuralists of the Academy of Science and the primordialists among nationalist groups.
What the law will actually contain, Mitrokhin continues, “depends on who in fact will draft it and what ideas and interests will be inserted in it at the stage of coordination with the numerous interested agencies and individual highly-placed citizens.” It would be nice to think that the Drobizhevas and Tishkovs would play the largest role, but that is unlikely.
Mitrokhin says that a clear sign of that is the background of the man Putin named to head the new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs. “Igor Barinov, judging by his biography as a former commander of the FSB Alpha Force in Yekaterinburg and then as a deputy in the Duma and by his speeches, is in intellectual terms a nullity.”
Consequently, the Germany-based scholar says, the new law “On the Russian Nation” will be composed “not by experts of the Council on Interethnic Reslations not by the junior colleagues of the man who proposed it but rather by ordinary lawyers with diplomas from the FSB Academy and murky ethno-nationalist ideas” reflecting the views of people like Dugin or Panarin and even more radical people around Dmitry Rogozin.
Consequently, the best that can be hoped for is that this new law will “be toothless and inadequately funded as has been the case with many others in recent years [because] there is an anything but small risk that it will serve as a feeding ground for Russian fascists and for ethno-nationalists of various kinds.”