Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s New Nationality Strategy Won’t Work, Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – The nationality policy strategy paper prepared by the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relation and now to be debated suggests that the Kremlin believes it can solve the country’s ethnic problems by spending money and imposing legal sanctions, but Moscow observers say that the proposals the paper contains won’t do so.

            In an essay posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, Aleksey Polubota describes the provisions of the strategy paper which is to govern Moscow’s approach through 2025 that have surfaced in the media so far and then asks four commentators for their reactions to the document (svpressa.ru/society/article/59427/).

            According to Polubota, the strategy paper includes calls for the legal prohibition of any “’ethnic aspect’” in elections or party programs and for criminal punishment against any official who “provokes inter-ethnic conflicts.”  Further, it calls for the creation of a country-wide media monitoring program so as to have early warning of any conflicts.

            The strategy estimated to cost one billion rubles (31 million US dollars) also calls for giving funds to those who conduct “propaganda for civic unity.”  In addition, it urges giving the local population a voice over how many immigrant workers businesses in their region can accept. And it says Moscow should promote culture exchange and ethnic awareness tourism.
            Aleksandr Shatilov, deputy director of the Center of Political Conjuncture, told  Polubota that he “fears” that this program on offer is “yet another imitation of an attempt to improve the situation” in Russia but that such “a bureaucratic scrap of paper cannot resolve the complex of problems that really threaten civic peace in Russia and the territorial integrity of the country.”
            According to Shatilov, “nationalists attitudes are arising recently not among the titular nations in the Russian republics. Now it is already possible to speak about an outburst of “Russian ethno-nationalism,” which now that it is less “super-national and imperial” than it waas is “provoking local nationalisms of some small peoples of Russia.”
            That development, the analyst argues, threatens “a war of all against all.”
            The strategy paper’s call for a ban on ethnic references won’t work in the age of the Internet, Shatilov continues. And unless the powers that be are prepared to impose serious criminal penalties, few Russian officials will change their behavior. But he saves his sharpest criticism for the paper’s proposals on migration and monitoring.
            On the one hand, he notes, the authors of the paper fail to recognize that “today, the problem of internal migration is much more serious in Russia than migration from abroad.”  And on the other, monitoring is a good idea but it is very “resource intensive” and requires more professional specialists than the country has.

            The second commentator with whom Polubatov spoke is Anatoly Stepanov, the chief editor of the “Russkaya narodnya liniya” portal, an Orthodox, Russian nationalist, and pro-Putin organization.  Nonetheless, he says that everything the regime has tried in the area of nationality policy has failed.
            “In the 1990s,” he notes, “the word ‘empire’ was almost a curse word. But Russia in essence even now remains an empire where numerous peoples live.” For that to work, relations among the nationalities must be very carefully arranged, and everyone must recognize that “our country cannot become a nation state of the ethnic Russian people.”
            At the same time, Stepanov insisted that this does “not mean that we must be guided by the much-ballyhooed principles of toleration and the equalization of the unequal.” There needs to be a hierarchy as there was in Soviet times with the Russians being “the elder brother” and everyone else “the junior ones.”
            Contemporary Russia’s “imperial policy” must rest on “the domination of the Russian people among all other Russian peoples” and on the recognition of “equality of peoples among themselves.”  If Moscow does not restrain the new Russian nationalism, it and not the non-Russians “could become the gravedigger of Russia.”
            “The problem of inter-ethnic relations,” Stepanov adds, “is rooted not so much in the contradictions between Russians and representatives of other peoples as in the bureaucracy,” but the corruption of the latter will be hard to eradicate because “the southern peoples are much more complacent about bribes” than Russians area.
            Azamat Mintsayev,, the president of the Union of Waynakh Youth (a Chechen organization), was more positive about the strategy in his comments to Polubatov than the others. But he noted that “if the police were to work as they should, people would not be trying to create international druzhinniki” units to maintain order – as they in fact are.
            And he argued that the authorities must do more than monitor the media: they must intervene to correct ethnic slander such as reports in history textbooks concerning the Chechen and Ingush deportations under Stalin in 1944. “Textbooks must bring peoples together. But often it happens that they [now] do just the reverse.”
            Finally, Valery Khomyakov, the director general of the Council for National Strategy, was dismissive of the new document, saying that he feared that “all this history with the Presidential Council for Nationality Affairs was just the latest empty waste of money” and would not help.
            “For the resolution of problems,” he suggested, “no conceptions or strategies are needed. There is the Criminal Code where it is written in black on white that it is criminal to take or give bribes … It is necessary to observe the law and to punish those who violate it, independent of their position or their nationality.”

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