Saturday, November 16, 2019

Russian Governors Now More Popular than Putin but Unlikely to Act as a 1990s-Style Fronde

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 13 – Polls show that the approval ratings of Russia’s governors have risen significantly over the last year, while the standing of Vladimir Putin has continued to fall. If this trend continues – and it is likely to, Abbas Gallyamov says – the governors will soon be more popular than the president.

            The reason for that is that so many of the governors are recent appointees who do not have the baggage Putin does after 20 years in power, the Russian commentator and former Putin speechwriter says. And he suggests that before the Duma elections, this will restore a situation much like that in the 1990s (

            As a result, Gallyamov continues, then “now-forgotten signs of a regional fronde and separatism” will return. Voters in the provinces will be angry, and “the new heads of the regions will at some point ride this wave.”  If that happens, “no FSB will be able to stop this process just as at one time the KGB couldn’t.” 

            But the Region.Expert portal suggests that Gallyamov is being remarkably na├»ve for a former Kremlin official and that what he predicts is unlikely. That is because the governors in the 1990s were independent political actors while the governors now are bureaucratic appointees chosen precisely because they won’t act in the same way (

            “The citizens of the majority of regions of the Russian Federation,” the Tallinn-based regionalist portal says, “really are unhappy with Muscovite hyper-centralization, but at the same time, they are not so stupid as to struggle against it with the help of Moscow’s own representatives.”

            Gallyamov counters with the suggestion that the leaders of the union republics in 1991 were also Moscow’s representatives; but Region.Expert reminds that by that year, the leaders of the republics were “freely elected presidents or presidents of the supreme soviets (Landsbergis, Yeltsin, Kravchuk, Shushkevich and so on)” and no longer really Moscow’s men.

Duma Deputies Criticize Rosstat Plan to Allow People to Declare More than One Nationality in 2020 Census

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 13 – Rosstat’s draft form for the 2020 census allows those surveyed for the first time to declare that they are members of more than one nationality, an arrangement that apparently has not been finally confirmed but that has drawn sharp criticism from the members of the Duma committee on nationality affairs.

            At a hearing yesterday, members of the committee said that such a provision would put pressure on those surveyed to declare a nationality rather than refuse to answer as is their right under the Russian Constitution ( and

            Sergey Yegorenko, the deputy head of the state statistical committee, told the deputies that he did not believe that allowing people to declare more than one language would constitute pressure. He said that census takers were required to write down whatever the people they spoke with said, however “provocative.”

            He said that the plan to allow people to declare more than one language represented “a compromise with scholars,” adding that “for the definition of the ethnic composition of Russia, only the first answers of the respondents would be counted, but the remainder will be supplied to the scholarly community for investigation.”

            The Duma committee was not impressed and decided to send a letter critical of this Rosstat plan to the government, the representatives of regions and scholars. “The census form has not been confirmed,” the committee’s chair observed; and so there is still time before the enumeration next fall to change it.

            Among those scholars pushing hard to allow people to declare more than one nationality is Valery Tishkov, former head of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and former nationalities minister. Recently, he suggested he had failed to get this modification accepted but now it appears that Tishkov who is a close advisor to Vladimir Putin, may have succeeded.

            Although neither the Duma deputies nor the Rosstat representative acknowledged it, the biggest threat from allowing those surveyed in the census to declare more than one language is that it will promote dual identities, weaken non-Russians ones, and allow Moscow, whatever Yegorenko says, to count people who declare two nationalities to choose the one that they prefer.

            It is entirely possible, for example, that the offspring of mixed Russian and non-Russian parents will declare both but that Moscow will decide to count those who do as Russians to weaken the position of non-Russians in the republics and of all nationalities other than Russian in the country as a whole.

            Such manipulation, while supposedly proscribed, could dramatically change the balance of power in many places, boosting Russian influence while weakening non-Russian, something many non-Russians suspect is the intention of Tishkov and behind him Putin. (On that, see

Buryat Head of Buryatia Promises to Learn to Speak Buryat by End of His Term

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 13 – In a bid to shore up his position, Aleksey Tsydenov, the embattled Russian-speaking Buryat head of the Republic of Buryatia, has promised to learn Buryat by the end of his first term, an indication that ethnicity without language may not be sufficient for the leader of a non-Russian republic (

            In recent years, Vladimir Putin has increasingly appointed as heads of the republics people who have made most of their careers outside of those federal subjects even if they are, like Tsydenov, members of the titular nationality. Most speak the language of that nationality even if they mostly use Russian. Tsydenov does not.

            What makes Tsydenov’s promise especially intriguing is that it comes at a time when the Kremlin is promoting the use of Russian and undermining the use of non-Russian languages. For a republic head to confess he doesn’t know the language of his republic but feels compelled to learn it says more about how people there actually feel than almost anything else.

            It is an especially telling concession coming from Tsydenov. Two years ago after being appointed head of the republic, he explained that his father was a Buryat, his bother an ethnic Russian, and he therefore of mixed nationality, admitting then that he had forgotten what little Buryat he knew (

            His wife said that the time that he had to learn the national language because “it is shameful to forget one’s native language.”  But several months later, pleading that he had too much work to do, Tsydenov conceded that he had not been able to spend any time learning Buryat (