Sunday, February 2, 2020

Opposition to Changing Russian Constitution’s Reference to Multi-National People Ranges from Prudential to Principled

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – Duma deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov’s call for dropping the reference to “the multi-national people” of the Russian Federation and inserting instead “the multi-people people” of that country has already been denounced by Tatar State Council head Farid Mukhametshin (

            But opposition to that change is far broader and deeper ranging from the prudential – such a change would be offensive to many without adding anything – to principled – this playing with words would open the way to changing the fundamental nature of the Russian state and represent an attack against both federalism and existing nations within the country.

            Kazan’s Business-Gazeta provides a useful survey of opinion on this point, underscoring that opposition to this idea is found not just among non-Russians as some might have expected but among Russian experts and commentators who are nervous about what such a change could mean (

            Damir Iskhakov, a historian who is a leader of the World Congress of Tatars, says that the proposed change in language in fact represents “a change in the structure of the Russian state” because the current language stresses that “Russian consists not only of subjects but also of internal states, the republics.”  With the change, “the population of the republic and the subject of the federation would be one and the same thing.” Both the republics and the non-Russian nations would be put at risk.

            Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speech writer and now commentator, says that he has nothing against the change in principle but wouldn’t make it because it would offend so many and create a crisis. “Now, all nationalists in the republics will begin to shout that Moscow wants to destroy the national republics and small peoples. Some won’t believe this, but others will.”

            Rimzil Valeyev, a Tatar journalist, points out that the term “multi-people” doesn’t exist in Russian speech but is only something Academician Valery Tishkov has dreamed up.  It represents “a provocation.” 

            Indus Tagirov, a historian in the Tatar Academy of Sciences, says that “such a change is impossible because there is no such term … There are nations and there are peoples. There is a country and there is Russia, and there is the multi-national people of Russia and this formulation must never be changed” for both linguistic and political reasons.

                Konstantin Kalachev, a Russian political analyst, says that if the constitution is changed in this way, then the republics should be scrapped and the peoples assimilated. Consequently, even if there is some intellectual justification for the change in wording, there are great risks of a political explosion if anyone actually inserts this word.

            Leokadiya Drobizheva, head of the center for research on international relations at the Federal Scientific-Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, suggests that the entire debate on this term is moot because Vladimir Putin routinely uses the term “multi-national people of Russia.” Consequently, there will be no change.

            Viktor Avksentiyev, head of conflict studies at the Southern Academic Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that it is all very well to talk about “a non-ethnic Russian nation” but the term should not be inserted in the constitution.  Too many people will take it to mean too many things.

            Sergey Sergeyev, a political scientist and Kazan Federal University, says that “in principle, [he] considers Nikonov’s proposal correct, but … this doesn’t mean that it ought to be adopted.” It is at a minimum premature because “society has not yet evolved to the point that it will agree with the idea of a civic nation.”

            And Midkhat Farukshin, a professor at Kazan Federal University, says the change isn’t necessary and that Nikonov is simply trying to curry favor with the centralists in the Kremlin.

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