Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Liquidating Non-Russian Republics Would Threaten Russia’s National Interests, Moscow Roundtable Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – Liquidating the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation as some have proposed would threaten the survival of the country’s non-Russian nations as well as the national traditions and interests of the Russian people and the Russian Federation, according to participants in a Moscow roundtable.

            And those experts add that those who understand this situation should speak out because so far the idea has been pushed only by second-level figures, an apparent testing of the waters by more senior ones, and thus can be stopped before actions are taken that could ignite serious inter-ethnic conflicts in the country and undercut Russia’s position in the world.

            Last week, in the Moscow House of Nationalities, the Gumilyev Center and the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus held a roundtable to express the reasoning behind their opposition to the elimination of the non-Russian republics ( and

            If Moscow resumes its program of folding in non-Russian republics into predominantly Russian regions that between 2005 and 2008 eliminated six autonomous districts, the participants said, that would be “an extraordinarily serious step” that would require changing the Russian Constitution, something most Russian politicians have been unwilling to do.

            And it would trigger opposition among the non-Russian nationalities especially those who would be likely to conclude that the only way to prevent this change would be public protest and in international organizations because Moscow is a signatory to many accords committing it to protect the rights of minorities.

            Pavel Zarifullin, the head of the Moscow Gumilyev Center, said that Moscow needs to recognize that “the strength of the state consists in its asymmetrical nature, its complexity, and the multiplicity of the systems which make it up” and that efforts to impose a spurious homogeneity would only undermine its power.

            Unfortunately, he continued, at present, anyone, regardless of how little he understands about the nationality question, is free to make proposals that may be dangerous to the country. And the Gumilyev Center head said that is exactly what Mikhail Prokhorov and others who have called for doing away with the non-Russian republics have done.
            And unfortunately too, Zarifullin continued, these proposals are not given the assessments they deserve.  “No one,” he said, had yet done so in the case of Prokhorov, and he suggested that the current roundtable was thus a necessary corrective because “it is time for society to give its assessment” of such dangerous ideas.

            Rustem Vahitov, a Moscow commentator who writes frequently on nationality issues, suggested in his remarks that “if a decision will be taken to do away with the national autonomies,” that will intensify nationalisms of all kinds, leave to national conflicts, and threaten smaller peoples with assimilation and the loss of their culture and language.

            Ramazan Alpaut, deputy chairman of the Russian Congress of the Peoples of the Caucasus, said that there was a worldwide trend toward greater not lesser autonomy for ethnic minorities. He also noted that most of the republics of the Russian Federation “which are considered mono-ethnic” in Russia are not so “according to European standards.”   For example, Chechnya is not completely Chechen because “about 20,000 Kumyks live there.”

            Brontoy Bedyurov, a spiritual leader from the Altay, said that those proposing to redraw the map of Russia failed to recognize that Russia is not “a mono-ethnic state” and  to undertand that it has “never been based on the principles of nationalism and the rule of one ethnos over others.”

            Magomed Omarov, vice president of the Kontinent Foundation for Ethno-Political Research, said that calls for doing away with the non-Russian republics “are dangerous because they reflect definite tendencies in society.”  But he noted that they “contradict the official documents of the Russian Federation and the interests of the state.”

            Denis Sokolov, the head of the RAMCOM Center for Social-Economic Research on the Regions, noted that those who propose eliminating the non-Russian republics forget that “the overwhelming majority” of predominantly Russian regions are not economically self-sufficient either.

            Yevgeny Bahrevsy, a senior research at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research (RISI), said that those who want to do away with the non-Russian republics focus only on economics rather than on broader questions of culture and politics. Whatever problems exist in the non-Russian republics, territorial divisions elsewhere also have their drawbacks.

            Zeydulla Yuzbekov, a professor at Moscow State University, said that Russia had always been “a center of attraction” for peoples around the world because of its diversity. Doing away with the non-Russian republics would undercut that. Consequently, everyone should remember that “a beautiful bouquet always consists of various flowers.”

            And Aliy Totorkulov, the president of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, said that the notion that the non-Russian republics should be eliminated reflected a dangerous tendency to elevate economics above everything else rather than recognize that it is only one factor among many that a state must consider.”
            In its reports on this meeting, the Gumilyev Center suggested that despite their diversity of opinion on many issues, the roundtable participants were united in their conviction that Russia must not become a “melting pot” of peoples “in which unique national cultures will disappear” and that Moscow must make their survival “a priority task.”

            To do so, the Gumilyev Center suggested, would “correspond with the historical traditions of Russia, the mentality of the Russian people, and the pragmatic interests of the contemporary Russian Federation.” Obviously, “problems in the republics exist,” but trying to solve them by doing away with the republics would lead to “still greater problems.”

            What makes this roundtable’s conclusions particularly important, of course, is that its defense of the non-Russian republics comes from a group with broad ties to many parts of the Russian nationalist spectrum.  And that suggests any new push by the Kremlin to amalgamate the republics will be opposed by groups many assume would be its most enthusiastic supporters.

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