Monday, December 5, 2016

Russians and Non-Russians Alike Oppose Putin’s Hybrid Civic Russian Nation Idea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – A Putin-supported call for a law defining the population of the Russian Federation “rossiiskaya natsiya,” a hybrid concept that joins together a political term – “rossiisky” which refers to the state -- and an ethnic one – “natsiya” or nation -- is generating ever more opposition among ethnic Russians and non-Russians alike.

            Igor Romanov of the Beregrus Russian nationalist site, says “the initiative for adopting in Russia a law ‘on the Russian nation’ is collapsing. Indeed, one can say it has already collapsed” because people understand now they were being misled in supposing that this was anything but an updated version of “the Soviet people” (“sovetskiy narod”) (

                Like most other Russian nationalists, Romanov detests both the Soviet term and its Russian update because he and they are convinced that such terms undermine the special status and nature of the ethnic Russian nation and that “there cannot be any ‘rossiiskaya natsiya’” of the kind the law is supposed to create.

            What there is, Romanov says, is “an ethnic Russian state-forming people which forms 80 percent of the population of the country, and there are small fraternal peoples of our Power, which together with the ethnic Russians created Great Russia which has been strengthened and secured by the ethnic Russian people.”

            “Who are these Russians?” the Beregrus editor asks. “They are those who confess Orthodoxy, live in correspondence with the traditions of ethnic Russian culture and speak Russian. The ethnic Russians respect and love other peoples living on the territory of Russia. And how could a truly ethnic Russian Orthodox individual live other than in that way?”

            Romanov cites with approval an article in “Kommersant” today which asserts that “in the majority of the [non-Russian] republics including Crimea, people are concerned” about the proposed law defining a civic Russian “nation.” And he cites with approval the judgment of Ramazan Abdulatipov, current head of Daghestan, that “such a law ‘cannot exist in nature’” (

                “The formation of a nation,” Abdulatipov says, “is an objective historical process.” It is something a law can regulate but cannot call into existence. Talking about creating such a new nation is fine but thinking that one can create it by legal fiat is not only absurd but dangerous given how people who have ethnic identities will react.

                “Kommersant” reviews opposition to the idea of the law in Chuvashia, Tatarstan, Mordvinia, Ingushetia, Tuva, and Russian-occupied Crimea and suggests, as does a longer analytic article in today’s “Kommersant-Vlast” that opposition is even more widespread than that (

            And the Moscow paper cited the recent words of Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs which has been entrusted with coming up with a draft that the law should focus on the state’s nationality policy rather to address issues that might call into question “the ethnic component” of identity.

            In short, it appears that the government is moving away from a notion that it backed without adequate thought in the face of opposition from ethnic Russians and non-Russians alike, a rare case where the Kremlin in recent times has done something which has united the two in opposition to the powers that be.

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