Monday, December 4, 2017

Putin’s Attack on Non-Russian Languages Presages End of Russian State, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 4 – Given all that Vladimir Putin has done, from the Crimean Anschluss to interference in Western elections, his ongoing attacks on non-Russian languages may seem like a small thing, Vitaly Portnikov says. But in fact, precisely those attacks are likely to have the most serious consequences: another collapse of Russian statehood.

            While it isn’t the case that ethnic Russians have lived well under Moscow’s rule, the Ukrainian commentator continues, it is the case that they “at least” have never been oppressed for their origin, language, “and in post-communist years for their faith.” That can’t be said for the non-Russians within Russia’s borders (

                “The history of the peoples of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation on the other hand is the history of continuing and undeserved humiliations,” suspicion, limitation of rights, and petty mistreatment that have made even those who might have been willing to live forever in Russia have second thoughts, he continues.

            Indeed, one of the reason that non-Russians have played a key role in revolutionary events be they in 1917 or in 1991 is the way in which they were mistreated by the state. The Soviets tried to stop this by operating “under the mask of Bolshevik ‘internationalism’” but then they too returned to the policies of unrestrained russification and chauvinism.

            According to Portnikov, “now the very same thing is taking place with the remnant of the USSR, the Russian Fedeeration.  Again is returning the customary hostility to ‘national minorities’ and the certainty that only the ethnic Russian bureaucrat knows how they should live.” 

            Putin has given the go ahead to this return, but many Russians are racing ahead to be even more Orthodox than the Patriarch in this regard. Journalist Anastasiya Mironova now openly writes about “’small peoples,’ ‘small languages’ and ‘small histories’” in talking about non-Russian nations (

                She extends her notions to Ukraine, although at present Moscow has no possibility of imposing this Procrustean bed of national chauvinism on them and so has not surprisingly turned to imposing it on the non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation starting with the Tatars of the Middle Volga.    

            In the wake of 1991, Moscow and Kazan were able to reach an agreement with each other on the basis of compromise. But now Putin and his regime are working to destroy that compromise, refusing to extend the power-sharing treaty and eliminating Tatar as a required subject in republic schools.

            Putin and his regime are confident that the Tatars can’t do anything about this, Portnikov continues, and they are right: “Now, Kazan will not respond to Moscow: the Tatars will simply remember what has been done to them. National minorities act on their memories not when the central power is strong but when it begins to weaken.”

            “A genuine state remembers that power will not always be strong and that at a difficult moment it will need to count on universal support. A state is not a celebratory toast about the Russian people as victorious nation. But the Russian Federation is only an imitation of a state. In fact,” the commentator says, “it is an ordinary club of suicides.”

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