Monday, March 16, 2020

‘Without Ethnic Russian People, There Won’t a Non-Ethnic Russian Nation, But Without Russia, There Won’t be an Ethnic Russian People Either,' Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 11 – Few Moscow specialists on ethnicity are more disliked by non-Russians than Academician Valery Tishkov, former nationalities minister and a close advisor to Vladimir Putin (

            But Tishkov along with other senior specialists on nationality issues apparently were not involved in the preparation of the constitutional changes Putin is currently promoting ( And now Tishkov has expressed his anger and concern about what some of the changes may mean.

            Non-Russians are unlikely to view Tishkov as their ally after reading his declaration, but they will may view him as someone who is not rushing nearly as headlong toward defining the Russian Federation as an ethnic Russian nation state as some of those behind the changes seem committed to doing.

            In an open letter disseminated last week, Tishkov discusses the complex relationship between ethnic Russian (russky) and civic or state-defined Russian (rossiisky) and argues that some of the language now slated to be included in the Russian Constitution ignores these complexities and opens the way to danger (

            (Because Tishkov’s letter focuses on the differences between these two terms, they are given in the Russian below where he uses them.)

            For the past 30 years, the academician writes, he has focused on “the development and affirmation of the national rossiisky project.” The essence of that project, he says, is “that after the drama of the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, the rossiisky people established a sovereign state under the name Russia (Rossiiskaya Federation).”

            “In all respects,” he continues, this state became “one of the most important nation-states with all the attributes characteristic for the largest nations of the world. Among these attributes are an existence under a single sovereign power, a solid sense of shared citizenship with a common historical memory, culture, values, [and] legal norms.”

            And all these things existed within “an historically existing multi-ethnic and poly-confessional nature.”

            “Over the course of these 30 years, rossiiskaya identity replaced the Soviet, squeezed out ethnic particularism and in recent years became among rossikiye people the primary identity among all the other forms,” Tishkov says. “The term rossiisky people became a restoration ofhte pre-revolutionary name and at the same time was an extension of the Soviet people, despite the large losses with the disintegration of the Soviet people.”

            “The russky component retained a dominant position in it was had been the case over the course of all of the fatherland’s history.” According to Tishkov, “thanks to common intellectual searches with the support of the authorities and the approval of the institutes of civil society, a formula for the preservation of ethno-cultural multiplicity within the assertion of all-rossiisky unity and an understanding of the rossiisky people as a poly-ethnic civic nation was born.”

            But not everyone accepted this, and “often the terms ‘rossiisky people’ and ‘rossiyane’ were treated as euphemisms like ‘Martians.’” This led to some truly absurd outcomes. For example, for some who favored russky nationalism, “russkiye lads in the NATO armies of Latvia and Estonia could be representatives of ‘one people,’ but soldiers from among the Tuvins, Chechens, or Bashkirs who were defending rossiiskye borders were viewed as ‘civilizationally different’ peoples.”

            And as a result, he continues, “all-rossiisky patriotism on which our country rested and rests often was sacrificed to semi-mythic ‘worlds’ Slavic, Turkic or Finno-Ugric in nature.” And escaping from this for many was made difficult by outdated ideas about the nature of ethnicity and nationality.

            Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have done much to overcome these problems because they understand that “civic political nations today form the international community, and they will varying degrees of success resolve the problems of stability and the development of multi-ethnic and poly-confessional communities.”

            “Nation states have not left the historical arena and remain the most powerful forms of human collectives,” Tishkov says. “Russia does not have a different variant now just as it did not in the past.” 

            “The russky and rossiisky always went hand in hand as two forms of identity which do not exclude one another of the basic population of the country. It is clear that without russkiy, there is no rossiisky, for russkiye are not only the demographic majority but russky language and russkaya culture are the core and dominant component of the rossiisky.”

            But “this is only one side of the issue,” the academician says. “The other side is that without Rossiya, there will not be the russkiye as a people, and possibly its language and culture as well. And he quotes with approval philosopher Georgy Fedotov’s conclusion that “Rossiya is not Rus [and] if the russkiye will ignore [the others] … Rossiya will not exist.”

                In the revised text of the constitution, Tishkov regrets, “there is no reference to the ‘rossiisky people’ or the ‘rossiskaya nation.’” Nor is there, he acknowledges any “category ‘russky people.’” Instead what is found is murky and indefinite language which will lead to confused politics, especially if the document should last 30 to 50 years as Putin has suggested.

            That should be remedied, the academician suggests, but he clearly does so with the fear that that will not happen and that those who want to speak about “the language of the state forming people,” the russkiye, have a different and potentially disastrous agenda for the future.

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