Sunday, November 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Idea of Renaming Non-Russian Republics Seen as Kremlin ‘Trial Balloon’ Using Classic Soviet Format of ‘Initiative from Below’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – A Daghestani professor’s proposal to change the names of the non-Russian republics so that they do not refer to a titular nationality to ensure ethnic equality and prevent secession represents little more than the latest “trial balloon” by the Kremlin to see what people will tolerate using the classic Soviet tactic of “an initiative from below.”

            That is the conclusion of Akhmad Buro in an analysis posted on the “Kavkazskaya politika” portal. He further notes that this idea is not new and can best be understood as the latest test of civil society following such steps as calling republic presidents “heads,” eliminating the regional component in non-Russian schools, or doing away with the republics altogether (

                While some in the republics and some in Moscow already see the self-evident absurdity of this idea, “one can hardly expect astormy reaction on the part of the regional authorities or society to this latest innovation.  Therefore,” he continues, it is entirely possible that this “’trial balloon’ will be successful.

            There won’t be any reaction, he continues, “not because all agree with the idea of renaming or are simply indifferent, but because [any reaction] depends on the level of the development of civil society and to what degree the local authorities are reflective of the interests and aspirations of the population.”

             An article in “Izvestiya” on Friday sparked this discussion among the commentariat. The paper reported that Abdul-Nisir Dibirov, the rector of Makhachkala’s Institute of Economics and Politics, had said that Daghestan plans to call for renaming the Russian Federation’s non-Russian republics to eliminate any reference to ethnicity (

            All republics are poly-ethnic, he said, and consequently, it is wrong to send the signal with names that one people is truly native and all others are outsiders. Moreover, ethnic names are routinely exploited by nationalist groups interested in advancing the cause of their community alone up to and including independence.

            According to Dibirov, “it would be possible to avoid many inter-ethnic problems” if ethnic names were replaced with geographic ones.” Thus, under his scheme, Kabardino-Balkaria would become the Pri-Elbrus Republic, Tatarstan would become the Kazan Republic, and Bashkortostan the Ufa Republic.

            Dibirov told “Izvestiya” that this initiative “would not face resistance” in the North Caucasus.” And the paper cited the approval of this idea that Mogamed Vakhayev, a United Russia deputy from Chechnya, has already offered. He thinks changing the name of Chechnya to almost anything except Ichkeria, which Dzhokhar Dudayev used, would be a positive step.

            But Akhmat Ekrenov, a Duma deputy from Karachayevo-Cherkessia, is very much opposed, “Izvestiya” said. He said there is “nothing bad” about having ethnic names for the republics and that minorities within them should find “the institution of cultural autonomies” sufficient to their needs.

            And Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, told the daily there was no need to rename any republic. That would require a constitutional change, and Russians should remember that many countries have territorial autonomies named for ethnic groups, such as the Basques and the Catalonians in Spain.

            Tishkov’s reference to Spain may not reassure everyone in the Russian Federation, given recent Spanish history. But however that may be, many are declaring their opposition to the idea.  Rasul Khaybulayev, a representative of the head of Daghestan, declared that Makhachkala does not support Dibirov’s proposal (

            A commentary on the portal argued that eliminating national names will hardly save the country.  “A similar policy [of using only non-ethnic names for the regions] was pursued in the Russian Empire,”. “But,” the commentary said, “this ended badly for [the empire].” (
                And Anatoly Baranov, the chief editor of the nationalist and communist portal FORUM-MSK, suggested that the absurd and dangerous idea of renaming the republics was a reflection of the fact that the country’s leaders have not received the psychiatric evaluations they so obviously need (

            If Tatarstan were to be named the Kazan khanate, he asked rhetorically, would that be a good thing for Russia or not, especially since no one could be quite sure just where the  borders of that entity would be? The same thing sould be true for the Bashkirs and the peoples of the North Caucasus.

            But the biggest problem such a renaming scheme involves, Baranov suggested, is Russia itself. Perhaps the authors of this notion want to “return the historic name of Muscovia” and also “return the names of republics of a number of historical regions like the Novogorod Republic, the Pskov one, and so on.”

            The critical question -- Just how unified would that leave what is now called the Russian Federation? – is one that the proponents of this notion appear not to have considered.  Baranov implies that they are playing with fire and doing so without any possible fire extinguisher being at hand.

No comments:

Post a Comment