Saturday, March 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Could an Ethnic Russia Republic be Established?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 30 – Russian nationalists today often call for the formation of a genuinely ethnic Russian Republic but, because they do not have a vision of how it might be created, most of them are insisting on the destruction of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation in order to increase the status of their nation, according to a Moscow commentator.

            But despite the obvious problems with creating a Russian Republic – the attitudes of ethnic Russians about their territory, their state-centered ideology, and the intermixture of ethnic groups across the country – Maksim Sobesky suggests that at some point the creation of that new state could be possible (

            In an essay entitled “A Russian Republic – Myths and Reality,” Sobesky surveys the current thinking about this possibility and argues that so far Russians have not advanced very far toward defining it and thus are increasingly committed to “liquidating the other national autonomies” because they do not have one of their own.

            Before the Bolshevik revolution, the commentator argues, “the small peoples” – and he lists the Finns and the Poles – “used their rights for the preservation of cultural distinctions.” And he suggests, although much evidence points in an alternative direction, that there was little “separatism” among them or others.

            After 1917, however, the Bolsheviks for “populist” reasons “created dozens of autonomous republics and designated their borders in an extremely arbitrary manner.” These republics included significant numbers of ethnic Russians and large portions of purely ethnically Russian lands.

            That allowed Moscow to control these entities, especially through the CPSU organization.  But with the end of party rule and the departure of many ethnic Russians from these republics, Moscow no longer has this “administrative lever,” and Russian is therefore confronted by “separatist attitudes” and other “’ethnic’ problems.”

            In 1991, in 14 of the non-Russian republics of the RSFSR, the titular nationality formed less than half of the population, and in others, only slightly more. But now, “two decades later, “the number of ethnic Russians has fallen sharply in all Caucasus republics and in Tuva.” And “experts do not exclude that soon these republics will become mono-ethnic.”

            That pattern and that prospect has sparked a discussion among ethnic Russian nationalists about the need for “reforms” of the existing system, reforms that they believe are entirely justified because few foreign states offer their minorities ethno-territorial autonomies but instead expect them to assimilate or at least acculturate.

            Such discussion has been intensified because Moscow refuses to recognize the ethnic Russians as the state-forming nation and continues to disperse Russian nationalist meetings even as separatist attitudes among non-Russians grow. In fact, Sobesky adds, “foreigners are beginning to conceive of the national republics as independent states.”

            He then proceeds to survey the opinions of various Russian nationalist groupings on this issue. The state-oriented right, such as Velikay Rossiya and Russkiye, want to maintain control over the minorities but reduce their status.  The NDP argues that “it is time to stop ‘feeding the Caucasus’ and let the Caucasus republics survive,” if they can, on their own.

            Left-of-center nationalists in Volnitsa call for a referendum on autonomy. Drugaya Rossiya, says the North Caucasians should have the right “to live by the laws of traditional adat.”  And Eduard Limonov, Sobesky continues, has proposed stripping Chechnya and Daghestan of Cossack lands, while the Cossacks seek the restoration of tsarist-era divisions.

            In addition, he says, there are “nationalist-regionalists” who talk about independence for Leningrad oblast or Siberia.  Such attitudes in recent years have gone from being little more than “ordinary Internet gabbing” to “an entire cultural movement.” They can be dismissed only at Moscow’s peril.

            To date, Russian nationalists have not united on the issue of an ethnic Russian Republic any more than they have on a variety of other issues. The most specific programs have come from the RNE and Pamyat groups who respectively call for the formation of a purely Russian republic and the unification to Russia of ethnic Russian regions in neighboring countries.

            The National Democratic Party speaks in its program about ensuring equal rights for predominantly ethnic Russian regions and the non-Russian republics, but some of its members “deny the presence of an [ethnic] Russian nation and propagandize for the splitting apart of the country into independent states.”

            Velikaya Rossiya, Sobesky notes in concluding his survey, urges the creation of “a unitary Russian state” and the re-unification of ethnic Russian lands” now in neighboring states.  Russkiye calls for a revision of internal borders, the liquidation of some non-Russian republics, and limits on internal migration into Russian areas from non-Russian ones.


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