Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Window on Eurasia: National Cultural Autonomy for Russians a Contradiction in Terms, Duma Nationalities Committee Head Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – The notion that ethnic Russians should be allowed for form their own “national cultural autonomy” inside the Russian Federation, something many Russian nationalists have advocated,  “contradicts the very definition” of that term as well as the country’s constitution, according to the chair of the Duma nationalities committee.

            In an interview with, Gadzhimet Safaraliyev dismisses the very idea by observing that there is no purpose to speak about the ethnic Russians in that way “if we have an [ethnic] Russian state and [ethnic] Russian cultural dominants, the bearers of which speak on behalf not only ethnic Russians but all citizens of the country regardless of nationality” (

            Challenged to “name even one document which would say that we have an ‘[ethnic] Russian state,’ the Daghestani deputy says that “we have a Russian state and the nucleus of our multi-national people is the more than 100 million-strong [ethnic] Russian people,” something that “it is hardly necessary” to declare more formally.

            “The task of contemporary state nationality policy in the Russian Federation,” Safaraliyev continues, “is the strengthening of the spiritual consolidation of the multi-natinal people of Russia as a single civic nation.”  That is not as easy to carry out as many think and there are real “problems.”

             One of the most serious, he says, is “the resolution of conflict situations and securing the rights of citizens to the free choice of the language of communication, training and instruction.”  His committee is working on a definition of “language status,” he suggests that “in multi-national Russia, bilingualism and multilingualism is natural!”

            “Knowledge of languages brings peoples together,” he says, noting that “in Daghestan, we have many [ethnic] Russians who know Caucasian languages and speak them freely.”

            Again challenged by his interviewer to justify his claim that Moscow is treating nationality policy seriously given that there are no budget funds specifically allocated to it, Safaraliyev says that this situation is being addressed, that money will be provided, and that a new institution, possibly a nationalities agency or ministry will be set up.

             Meanwhile, Ramazan Abdulatipov, a former Russian nationalities minister, was challenged in the Moscow press to explain another official move that has infuriated Russian nationalists: the decision to drop references to “the state-forming role” of the new Russian nationalities strategy paper of which he was a co-author.

            In an interview published in “Vzglyad” yesterday, Abdulatipov said that he and his colleagues had agree that Moscow must shift from references to “the state-forming” role of ethnic Russians to their “unifying” role because of the attitudes of non-Russians in the Russian Federation (

            “Each national republic wants to write in its own constitution that the people that predominates there is that state-forming people. In Khakhassia, they write that the Khakass are the state-forming people; in Chechnya, the Chechens; and so on.”  Everyone needs to understand this and not be alarmed.

            He and his co-authors, Abdulatipov said, “did not change the essence of this thesis but rather introduced precision. No one denies that the [ethnic] Russian people formed [non-ethnic] Russian statehood.”  Indeed, he said, he and his co-authors “took certain definitions from the essay of Vladimir Putin” where he talked about the “Russian code” as the basis of statehood.

            “But despite that it is necessary to understand that not even the one most dominating people could uniquely form the contemporary Russian Federation. And even in the Constitution it is written that we are a multi-national people.” Had the authors of the strategy paper not recognized this, they would have had “to change the Basic Law of the country.”

            And as far as the existence of national republics is concerned, Abdulatipov noted, all the federal subjects are equal in status, but history itself requires that each choose its own “style.”  Daghestan has existed many thousands of years, the city of Derbent alone is 5,000 years old. Tatarstan is more than a thousand. These are historical names” and should not be changed.

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