Monday, July 9, 2018

Urals Regionalism Becoming Urals Nationalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – Regionalism, an identity or movement based among those who live on a particular portion of a larger nation, and nationalism, an identity or movement based on an imagined community of common descent, are typically viewed as completely different things, with the former being weaker and the latter stronger.

            But if they are different, each can draw energy from the others; and at least in one case within the current borders of the Russian Federation, a regional identity ostensibly within the Russian nation is becoming a national identity whose supporters see them as not only regionally but ethnically distinct.

            This process is as yet incomplete and involves relatively few people, but the way it has emerged and the reasons for it suggest that what is now a small problem within what is now called the Great Russian nation could gain sufficient strength to challenge that ethnic identity with another equally or even more powerful one.

            OnVKontakte, a group identifying itself as “Urals Nationalism 2.0” takes as its point of departure the release in Yekaterinburg last April of a new “Dictionary of the Urals Language” (, a step it says represents a break with Russian ethnicity and points to the rise of a new nation (, reposted at

                The group says that “very often people who want to advance a Urals dialect do not understand vey well what this is in fact.” They view it as the product of the Soviet experience of gigantic industrial projects like UralMash and of the GULAG.  But in fact the Urals language extends back to the 15th century, and scholars have compiled a huge dictionary of its words.

            Urals culture has its roots in the migration of people from the north of Russia at about the same period and was “from the outset formed on the basis of so-called ‘North Russian’ culture.” But then it evolved on its own as a result of the experiences of its bearers, even if it did not gain the recognition of a language that its richness deserves.

             “Why then is it happening that people of the Urals today associate themselves not with an ethnic milieu but with drug dealers and former political prisoners?”  It is because, the group says, they have been taught that their language is inferior and that so are they, and they’ve responded by using the slang of the dregs of society.

            “Those people who want to raise the banner of Urals identity” need to recognize that reality. “It is very important to distinguish these things, the characteristics of particular ethnic groups and the characteristics of definite social strata;” but up to know, this division has not been assimilated “in the mass consciousness because of the imperial chauvinism” around us.

            “From the point of view of the Muscovite,” the group says, no separate Urals culture exists.” It simply is part of the “canonical” Moscow one. Those who refuse to fit in are either neglected altogether or accused of Russophobia and separatism. “’What is a Urals dialect?’” Muscovites ask. “Speak a normal human language!’”

            You Urals people “don’t exist; there are only ethnic Russians!” is their line, something anyone from the Urals has heard if he or she has tried to defend their own dignity.

            “It is clear that the Muscovites cannot change their nature,” the group says; but people of the Urals can overcome “these stereotypes” first in their own milieu and then more generally. In this process, “Urals nationalism will inevitably become an instrument for that.”

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