Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Regions Must Meet Special Needs of Non-Russians in Their Midst, Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Having gained a greater share of the population in predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays, non-Russians in them are demanding that the governments of  these federal subjects devote more attention to the special needs of their communities and even set up special agencies to set and oversee policies affecting the ethnic minorities.

            Yesterday, the independent Chuvash newspaper, “Irekle samakh,” reported on new demands by the non-Russians of Ulyanovsk oblast, who now form 27 percent of the population of that federal subject, that the government there begin addressing their specific needs (irekle.org/news/i916.html, citing  opuo.ru/news/nacionalnaya-politika-trebuet-vnimaniya-vlastey-i-obshchestvennosti).

            The Social Chamber of Ulyanovsk oblast has called for the creation of a special administration to address nationality policy in the region. At a meeting last week, Rifgat Akhmedullov, the deputy head of the Tatar National-Cultural Autonomy of the oblast, noted that “non-Russian peoples now form l27 percent of the population of Ulyanovsk oblast, the highest percentage among Middle Volga regions which are not republics.”

            But despite their increase in numbers, he continued, the non-Russians still have no specific structure in the regional government which is responsible for their specific needs and for helping them overcome the kind of difficulties they experience when they have to deal with the oblast authorities.

            He and many other non-Russians have had to wait for a long time for any reaction to their requests for a personal meeting with officials, “and certain heads of municipal formations are not creating the conditions for the study of native languages in settlements where residents of a ‘non-titular nation’ predominate, thus violating Article 68 of the Russian Constitution.

            Akhmedullov said that the authorities had also failed to provide the indigenous non-Russian peoples of the oblast – Tatars, Chuvash, and Mordvins with literature in their national languages. Indeed, the books that are available in these languages in many rural areas were printed “30 to 40 years ago.”

            The Tatar leader’s comments prompted the body to adopt an appeal to the oblast government to “consider the question about the establishment of a ministry, department, section or other structure which will be responsible for the realization in the region of nationality policy and also to develop a program” in that area.

            In fact, Ulyanovsk oblast has had an official with responsibilities in this area for some time, but to date, that individual’s primary responsibilities appear to be elsewhere, something that apparently has limited his utility for the non-Russian quarter of the oblast’s population (www.irekle.org/news/i109.html citing ulgrad.ru/?p=83250).

                This seems certain to be repeated elsewhere for three reasons. First, census data show that non-Russians form an increasing percentage of the population in predominantly Russian areas. Second, non-Russians, having organized national-cultural autonomies, have a platform from which to speak. And third, Moscow’s suggestion that it will hold governors responsible for ethnic peace gives the non-Russians an opening.

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