Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Stavropol Residents Want the Kray to Become an Ethnic Russian National Republic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – Russian nationalists in Stavropol Kray, angry that it has been included in the North Caucasus Federal District and convinced that Moscow is treating ethnic Russians as “second class” citizens, want their kray to become an ethnic Russian national republic and thus equal in constitutional status to non-Russian republics.

            That challenges the current political arrangements in the Russian Federation in the unsettled north Caucasus, but the Stavropol activists want even more: they are calling for the establishment of ethnic Russian republics in each of the seven other federal districts as well, something would exacerbate inter-ethnic relation in the country as a whole.

            While this proposal is unlikely to go anywhere – kray officials will be under particular pressure to squelch it especially in advance of the Sochi Olympiad – the fact that it is being advanced at all underscores just how angry many ethnic Russians are about non-Russians and about what they see as the Kremlin’s deference to them.

            In an article on the BigCaucasus.com portal today, journalist Svetlana Bolotnikova says that Russian nationalists in Stavropol, having lost their 2010 bid to get their territory out of the North Caucasus Federal District, now want the kray to become an ethnic Russian National Republic (www.bigcaucasus.com/events/analysis/22-01-2013/82169-peredery-0/).

            The “spark” behind this decision was the murder of an ethnic Russian in Stavropol by an ethnic Chechen who then fled to his home republic. According to Bolotnikova, there will be demonstrations on Saturday in ten Russian cities, including Stavropol, to call attention to what organizers see as “the worsening status of the [ethnic] Russian people.”

            The situation has become so tense in Stavropol itself that Gvoernor Valery Zerenkov has decided to break his past silence about ethnic issues.  “We’ve had enough of the policy of minimizing things,” he said. Our reports “must be objective” so that we can “develop an effective system of defending peace and concord in the North Caucasus.”

            And the Russian governor added that in his view “preserving jobs for the longtime residents [of Stavropol kray instead of allowing immigrants to take them] is the task of the authorities.” To that end, he called for expanded patrols by Cossack units and imposing immigration controls at the border of the kray with North Caucasus republics.

            Russian activists in Stavropol are convinced that many of their problems would go away if they were able to convince Moscow to move their kray out of the North Caucasus Federal District, but failing that, they believe that what they need to achieve is an elevation in the status of the territory to that of an ethnic Russian national republic.

            Sergey Perederiy, a professor at Pyatigorsk State Linguistics University, told Bolotnikova why he believes that is so. The problems have their root “in the low status of the [ethnic] Russian people as a whole in Russia and in the North Caucasus Federal District in particular,” and consequently that rather than simply administrative arrangements must be addressed.

            According to the professor, “the legal and political status of Stavropol kray is not equal to the status of the national state formations” in the Federal District, and that “objectively has led to a situation in which Stavropol kray has been converted into a donor region and a reserve zone” rather than a territory with equal rights.

            On the one hand, Perederiy said, the ethnic Russians living there are concerned by threats to their personal security given the inability of the law enforcement organs to control migration.  And on the other, it is increasingly clear that this legal imbalance is “inevitably weakening the positions of Russian statehood in the South of the country.”

            According to surveys he has conducted, the professor added, “every fifth Slavic family in Stavropol is sitting on its suitcases,” that is, is ready to leave. “This inevitably is generating some very serious consequences,” and they must be resolved “not only in the framework of the North Caucasus Federal District but also in that of the Russian Federation as a whole.”

            At the present time, Perederiy argues, “the [ethnic] Russian people is not represented in the political, economic or spiritual spheres. It is not a subject of political and other relations.  The Constitution does not include the word ‘[ethnic] Russian which designates the national majority.”  That must be changed in order to give a new impulse to federalism in Russia.

            “In the 1990s,” he notes, “the [ethnic] autonomies received the status of republics.”  Going back on that, “as certain people are proposing, “isn’t going to happen.” Instead, “it is necessary to elevate the level of the territorial formations of the [ethnic] Russian regions to the status of national state formations.”

            Russia has eight federal districts, and “consequently, there should be created eight [ethnic] Russian republics.”  This would be entirely “normal,” and in the North Caucasus, there must be established a Stavropol [Ethnic] Russian Republic.”

            Unfortunately, Perederiy continued, “the authorities do not know what to do.  They are closing their eyes to what is going on and think that everything will work out.” That is absurd as is the idea that all the country’s citizens will become “[non-ethnic] Russians.” The non-Russians will never agree, and therefore the Russians must insist on getting equal status.

            Bolotnikova noted that after the North Caucasus Federal District was created, some people thought that Moscow had done so “so that terrorism and the [Sochi] Olympiad would be in different districts.”  And she asked Perederiy whether it might be the case that “after the Olympiad, there might be “a change.”
            He dismissed the idea and said it was “an indicator” of how little the political leadership of the country understands the situation.  Stavropol and other ethnic Russian regions need heightened status because otherwise Moscow will continue to assume that it can treat them less well than it treats the non-Russians.

            According to the professor, “Stavropol kray does not take part in many of the programs developed for the North Caucasus Federal District.” It isn’t given the money the others are, and Russians there are angry about that too.  But Moscow should be concerned as well if it cares about the future of the country.

            The current situation “when 82 percent of the population who are [ethnic] Russians feel themselves to be third class people,” who believe that “this country does not belong to them,” is absurd and must be changed.  “Many are interested in keeping this situation and continuing to export wealth from Russia. But these issues must be resolved; the time for that has come.”

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