Thursday, May 10, 2018

Moscow May Allow Mixed Nationality Identities in 2020 Census to Undermine Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 10 – Two years ago, Academician Valery Tishkov, former nationalities minister and advisor to Vladimir Putin on ethnic issues, said that residents of the Russian Federation should be allowed to tell census takers that there are members not of a particular nationality but rather of mixed ethnicity. 

            Speaking in Kazan, Tishkov said that “people with dual ethnic identity certainly should be given the opportunity to write that they are Tatar-Bashkirs,” an arrangement that he suggested would allow for the resolution of problems in the relationship between Tatarstan and Bashkortostan (

            Now, with the 2020 census approaching and with Tishkov’s views known to be influential in the past about the rules governing ethnic declarations to census takers and the grouping or division of individual declarations, IdealReal’s Ramazan Alpaut has interviewed Tatars and Bashkirs about Tishkov’s idea (

            Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov, the vice president of the World Forum of Tatar Youth, says that “it would seem that any rapprochement of Tatars and Bashkirs is something one could only welcome because we are closely-related peoples, not just brothers but twin.” But not in this way and not in this case.

            “Under current conditions, Tishkov’s proposals mean the following – the sowing of confusion among Tatars and Bashkirs,” with many not becoming unsure about who they in fact are.  Even more important, the goal of doing that, the Tatar activist says, is to play games with the numbers and shares of Tatars in Tatarstan.

            Tatars now outnumber ethnic Russians in Tatarstan, but if a significant number of them were to declare that they were of mixed nationality, Moscow might claim that ethnic Russians are in fact the most numerous nationality just as Russian officials (including prominently Tishkov) tried to do with the Kryashene, Orthodox Christian Tatars, in earlier census.

            The consequences for Bashkortostan would be even more serious: There ethnic Russians outnumber the Bashkirs already. They would gain even more if the category of “dual nationals” attracted a large number of declarations.  And it is even possible they would outnumber the Bashkirs and Tatars there combined.

            In that event, Moscow would be positioned to push through a referendum in a nominally democratic fashion abolishing the republics as ethno-national state formations and thus be able to make Russia formally what it already is in practice: a unitary rather than a federal state.

            The Bashkir public organization Bashkort also is against Tishkov’s proposal, Alpaut reports.  But its reasons are very different than the ones offered by Fayzrakhmanov. Following Tishkov’s logic, the group says, it will then be necessary “to introduce terms like Bashkir-Russian, Tatar-Russian, Chuvash-Bashkir and so on – a full mixing” that will confuse things.

            The Azatlyk Tatar youth organization views Tishkov’s proposal “as an instrument of an assimilationist policy,” one “directed at the splitting up of major politically strong and independent groups.” The Tatars, the largest of the non-Russian nations within the Russian Federation, are naturally the first target of this policy.

            According to Azatlyk, “this idea has no future because it will not be supported by either the Tatars or the Bashkirs.” The organization did not say how they would react if Moscow insisted on this change.  And it may given that the Council of Europe supports the idea of the category of mixed nationality.

            But if Moscow does accept Tishkov’s position, it will radically increase the number of different categories in the nationality line, including not unimportantly many consisting of people who would identify as Russian mixed with another nationality.  Some in Moscow would might welcome this as a step toward full assimilation, but others won’t.

            Many Russian nationalists would oppose such “hyphenates” which they would see as diluting the purity of the Russian nation. But even if their objections were ignored, many in Moscow would be concerned that the use of such mixed categories would reduce still further the number and share of ethnic Russians in the population.

            The share of ethnic Russians is already much lower than Moscow officially declares; the adoption of this Tishkov innovation would cut it still further.

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