Saturday, June 2, 2018

Moscow’s Nationality Policy Now Worse and More Dangerous than in Soviet Times, Tatar Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – Moscow’s nationality policy is more assimilationist and destructive of federalism than it was in Soviet times, Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov says; and its authors appear to have forgotten that even the Soviet variant was one of the factors that contributed to the disintegration of the USSR (

            The draft legislation on languages is “only a drop in the bucket” of the problems with Russian nationality policy now, the Tatar activist says. It involves the liquidation of the system of general education in native languages, the disappearance of the languages of indigenous numerically small peoples, and an assimilationist model that undermines federalism.

            “Today, the path to the formation of a single [non-ethnic] Russian nation in a multi-national country somehow has become possible only by means of putting pressure on native languages … Apparently,” he suggests, “the term ‘dialectical’ is not valued by present-day Russian ideologues” in this area at least.

            Not surprisingly, the Kremlin’s has generated opposition among almost all non-Russian peoples, Fayzrakhmanov says; but Moscow remains committed to pushing through the new law that codifies Vladimir Putin’s position on language issues and has pulled out all the stops to demonize and suppress opposition.

            The center has used pressure, including corrupt pressure, on officials, and “unleashed a massive information campaign for the draft law ‘about second class’ languages in the course of which beauty bloggers, advertisements on social networks, stories on central channels have been directed in the main against our republic.” 

            Tatarstan has become the target of this campaign, the activist says, apparently reflecting Moscow’s belief that its enviable position can be used against it with other non-Russians. But in fact, anger about the draft language law is if anything even greater in the North Caucasus than in the Middle Volga, at least among the people if not among the more easily intimidated elites.

            Many in the North Caucasus are worried that this attack on native languages will enrage young people in particular and that they will as a result decide to join ISIS or other radical groups to fight back, Fayzrakhmanov says.  There are concerns about that even in Chechnya, he continues.

            One of Moscow’s tactics is to keep the various non-Russians apart from one another. As a result, people in one republic often know little or nothing about people and practices in another. Moscow promotes the notion that any cooperation threatens the country and any talk about the constitutional status of the republics is a move toward separatism.

            Foolishly and counterproductively, “representatives of the federal powers that be have said aloud for ten years that national schools are a threat to the national security of the country, even though in the years of Stalin’s repressions, there was no such nationality school policy. And now, even native languages have been placed in the ranks of enemies.”

            Moscow doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know what is going on or how people feel in the republics, the activist says.  “For Russian political parties, the nationality question is at the edge of their priorities,” something they consider only after they have considered everything else.”

                And Russian government agencies charged with working in this area “do not inspire trust.” That is because they spend what little money they have on organizing “folkloric festivals and cultivating ‘the unity of the [non-ethnic] Russian nation.” And they develop strategies without taking into account the views of the non-Russians.

            “Instead of this,” Fayzrakhmanov says, “imitation structures have approved the existing draft of a single [non-ethnic] Russian nation” and make decisions about “how and in what proportions” are to be “’preserved’ the languages and cultures of the people,” infuriating those they are supposed to be serving.

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