Saturday, December 10, 2016

‘Politicization of Russian Ethnicity Will Lead to the Break-Up of Russia’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Non-Russians were the first to criticize the Putin-backed idea of a law that would define the residents of the Russian Federation as a non-ethnic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya), fearing that such legislation would lead to more discrimination against them and a further attack on the status of their communities and republics.

            Now, ethnic Russians are joining the chorus, denouncing this legislative proposal as both a continuation of Leninist nationality policy and the adoption of the American “melting pot” model and thus a direct threat to the nature of the ethnic Russian nation (russkaya natsiya) and ultimately a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

            Two such Russian attacks this week on the proposed law now being drafted and discussed in the Duma are especially important in that they lay out the reasons in detail for ethnic Russian fears about what such legislation will mean for the majority of the population of the country.

            The first came on Wednesday at a meeting of the Russian nationalist Russian Assembly that was held at the building of the Union of Writers of Russia. Three presentations were especially significant about the legislation and the consequences of its possible adoption (

            Sergey Baranov, a sociologist who wrote the 2009 volume, “The Russian Nation. A Contemporary Portrait,” pointed out that the majority of reviews of the law were “negative.” “The national minorities are afraid of a diminution of their rights,” and Russophiles don’t like its attack on their ethnicity. As a result, he said, it appears the powers are “backing down.”

            The reason is simple: “until 1991, there was no such term in scholarship as ‘the non-ethnic Russian nation.’”  And consequently, its appearance naturally has led to questions about “what will the future bring for the ethnic Russian nation and the ethnic Russian people.” Thus, “the adoption of a law about a non-ethnic Russian nation is extremely undesirable.”

            According to Baranov, the powers that be are “seeking ethnic homogeneity of the peoples of Russia, despite the fact that 90 percent of the population of the country are ethnic Russians,” but because they are using “the American experience of ‘a melting pot,’ replacing the indigenous population with migrants and mixing the ethnic Russian people with other peoples.”

            At the same time, he dismissed as sick fantasies the notion that “Russia could fall apart.” In his view, a country which consists of 90 percent of the core nationality simply won’t do so.

            In Baranov’s view, the new law does a number of unfortunate things: It undercuts the possibility of reuniting the three Slavic peoples by acting as if it can create some new entity in Russia itself and it undercuts the possibility that “other peoples living in Russia” can be “partners of the Russian people.”

            A second speaker, Tatyana Bespalova of the Likhachev Russian Research Institute on Cultural and Natural Heritage, also came out in opposition to the draft legislation. She suggested that there was no need for such a law and that “the politicization of Russian ethnicity” could backfire, offending others and discrediting Russia by failing to deliver what the law promises.

            Since 2000, she continued “a civic identity in Russia has been taking shape, but up to now there is no unity or community of non-ethnic Russians.”  In Bespalova’s view, three identities must be combined -- civilizational, civic and ethno-cultural – and “the state ideology” must be “the idea of the Russian World and Russian Civilization. She also called for restoring the nationality line in passports.

            But a third speaker, Anatoly Stepanov, the chief editor of the Russkaya narodnya liniya portal, noted in conclusion that “the politicization of the ruling people always has led to the disintegration of the empire,” something that he said Joseph Stalin understood “very well” and was guided by.

            “From the history of the fatherland,” he continued, “the outburst of ethnic Russian nationalist took place not long before the revolution. It is thus necessary to search for means of resolving the status of the ethnic Russian people in the Russian state.” A law on the Russian nation won’t do that.

                On the Svobodnaya pressa portal yesterday, Moscow commentator Viktor Militaryev also addressed these issues but focused more closely on what he said were the views standing behind the idea of a law among the powers that be and also among the expert community (

            He argued that the two groups were supporting a law on the Russian nation for very different reasons and that each of these has serious shortcomings.  The powers that be are convinced that “without positive discrimination in favor of the national minorities, stability in the country may break down.”

            In contrast, the theoreticians from the expert community behind the law support the idea for “internationalist” reasons. They believe, Militaryev says, that “it is necessary to be more concerned about the national minorities than about the people which forms the majority of the population.”

            The position of the powers that be, he argues, is internally inconsistent because it has led the regime to take steps that threaten to create the very problem it assumes exists – and the newly proposed law is no exception.  But that of the experts behind the law is “much more dangerous” because it suggests that the Russians must always be engaged in expiating for crimes of the past.

            Both groups are thus engaged in actions that are having “more negative than positive” consequences. First of all, because the authorities and the experts in a shameful way conceal what they are doing, Russians believe that “the authorities are carrying out a policy of conscious discrimination of ethnic Russians in favor of the national minoriites.”

            “This ‘impression’ in no way contributes to inter-ethnic peace in Russia.”

            Second, such a measure as the new draft law makes it more difficult for the country to move in the direction it should be going in: ending “positive discrimination in favor of national minorities” where it exists and ensuring “the complete equality of all citizens of the Russian Federation independent of their ethnic membership.”

            Third, the new law also makes it more difficult for people to recognize that “alongside the recognition of the rights of ethnic minorities of Russia to develop their national cultures,” the Russian state should be “constructed on the basis of ‘mono-culturalism’ of ethnic Russian culture.”

            And fourth, Militaryev said, in place of the law, Russians need to stop using the offensive “bureaucratic phraseology” behind it.  “Let us once and for all,” he said, “learn by heart: we are not ‘the multi-national people of Russia,’ but simply ‘the people of Russia,’ and not ‘a non-ethnic Russian nation,’ but ‘ethnic Russians and other peoples of Russia.’”

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