Thursday, October 4, 2018

How a Soviet Ethnographer Tried to Save the USSR

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 4 – “When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went,” W.H. Auden wrote; and consequently, one can only ascribe a certain continuing importance to what those loyal to those in power now said when they were being loyal to those in power at another.

            But such things often do provide an insight into the minds of such people.  A clear example of this is a document from July 1990 that St. Petersburg historian Aleksandr Puchenkov has unearthed from the Russian State Archives that contains the arguments of ethnographer Valery Tishkov on what Moscow should do to save the Soviet Union.

            Tishkov posted this on his Facebook page three days ago. Because he “unfriended” the author of these lines some time ago, I did not see it immediately; but several people who are still Facebook friends with the former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethology and Anthropology and Russian nationalities minister were kind enough to forward it to me.

            Below is a translation of this most interesting document as Tishkov posted it three days ago:

Petersburg historian Aleksandr Puchenkov, who is studying the history of the disintegration of the USSR, has found in the State Archive of the Russian Federation my not ‘to those above’ (just exactly to whom I do not remember) on the issue of the preparation of a new union treaty in 1990. It was interesting for me personally to read through it.

GARF, F. 9654, Op. 7, D. 1062, l. 13-15.

On the position of the Union delegation to talks on the new treaty:

I.It is important to define again the arguments in favor of the preservation of the Union. The old ones which are primarily about the past (victory in the war with fascism, the antiquity of the establishment of the Russian state and so on) or emotions (‘We still do not live in a real federation,’ ‘it is immortal to leave the Union at a difficult time’) in fact aren’t working.

Under present-day conditions, the preservation of the Union is justified above all for three reasons:

A)     Historical: Too deep historical-cultural interrelationships of peoples of the country which already long ago do not have precise ethnic borders along which one could carry out a national-state delimitation, the desire of the republics to engage in self-determination up to separation in their current territories and form nation states, that is, as the self-determination of the ‘indigenous’ nation is a path to conflicts or general transfer of populations. Dozens of peoples are settled in a dispersed way. Tens of millions of citizens have mixed origins. It is impossible to ‘turn back the clock’ on all these processes.

B)     Economic. An effective economy, even more markets and private entrepreneurship do not recognize national borders. Not all peoples have a sufficient ‘critical mass’ to ensure a full-blown system vitality. It is in fact impossible to destroy the already existing ties: they are dictated not only by the will of the Center but also by natural resource factors. The most important conditions of progress, the mobility of the population, are possible only in the Union.

C)    Political. In the currently existing differences in the world, questions of security have not been eliminated and a common defense is needed. The ‘Balkanization’ of the union can lead to ‘Lebanization’ and transform entire regions into hearths of civic and religious-ethnic conflicts. The Union is an almost prepared form for the inclusion in the structure of world governance, for bringing the peoples of the country into the world community, and for easing access to the achievements of world civilization and culture.

II.It is thus wise and tactically correct to adopt the following initial position: It will be more profitable and easier for the center and it sincerely desires to transfer as much power to the republics or other components of the Union as possible. The basic responsibility for the organization of civic (and not just national-cultural) life must be transferred from the federal authorities to the republics.  An effective market economy and privatization will relieve the Center and the republics of the need to divide up territories and property.
The Center is above all the highest guarantor of all-civic bases, an arbiter and a moderator; it is a structure which makes the functioning of the Union easier. It is the intersect point of republic ties and the focal point of voluntarily delegated authority and thus is in a position to adapt to rapidly changing conditions in the international community.
Only such a philosophy as a starting point (although this is not the most idea from the point of view of world experience and scholarship) can be perceived as possible now.  We are compelled to take into consideration both the heritage of the empire and the negative part of the Soviet experience. The limits of freedom undere conditions of the preservation of unity are far from exhausted even if one gives a level of sovereignty like that of the states in the US or the lander in the Federal Republic of Germany, this will be an enormous step forward.
III.The Center must search for new sources and levers of its utility.
V.A. Tishkov, 4 July 1990

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