Saturday, August 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Would a Stavropol Russian Republic Unite Russia or Destroy It?

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 24 – In an article on, Aleksandr Romanov says that the influx of North Caucasians into Stavropol has forced residents in that south Russian kray to consider “radical measures,” including the possibility of establishing or more precisely re-establishing a “Stavropol [Ethnic] Russian Republic.”

But the journalist pointedly asks whether such an institution, one that would give ethnic Russians their own statehood within the Russian Federation and thus something many non-Russians already have,  represents “a path to the establishment of a state of the [ethnic] Russians or rather one to the collapse of Russia” itself (

At the dawn of the Soviet period, a Stavropol Soviet Republic existed between January and July 1918 when it became part of the North Caucasus Soviet Republic. Neither of course was defined in ethnic terms, but their existence, like that of other earlier state arrangements, appears to be one of the reasons that people in Stavropol are talking about a republic.

The major reason, however, is the influx of north Caucasians and the growing feeling among Stavropol’s indigenous ethnic Russians that there is something fundamentally unjust about a situation in which these North Caucasians have their own republics but that ethnic Russians in Stavropol kray and elsewhere don’t.

“Ethnic Russians can only dream” about such a republic, Romanov says. But “in their dreams they imagine how they would respond to migrants who live according to their own rules” rather than those of the Russians.  You must respect Russians and Russian traditions, they dream of saying: “You aren’t at home but in the [ethnic] Russian Republic!’”

Unlike the non-Russians who have their own territories in which they dominate the situation, the Russians don’t – and because of the attitudes of the North Caucasians, they increasingly resent those who say, as one Chechen did recently, “Russia is common for all, but [our] republic is only ours.”

Over the last few weeks, various groups in Stavropol have organized meetings and circulated petitions calling for a referendum on the establishment of an ethnic Russian Republic, an action that Romanov suggests would have resonance elsewhere.  But whether that would lead to integration or disintegration remains far from clear, at least to the writer.

The Soviet government opposed the creation of distinctly Russian areas lest their existence limit migration within the country or spark greater nationalism among and resistance from non-Russian groups.  Instead, it offered the Russians a Faustian bargain in which they were able to dominate the country but only as long and in so far as they did not proclaim it.

That arrangement helps to explain why the Russians received only the RSFSR and why Russian nationalist CPSU officials, typically based in Leningrad, never reached the top positions in the Soviet state. But with the collapse of the USSR, the Russians continued to have only a “federation” and no explicitly ethnic territories of their own.

That has become increasingly infuriating to many Russians, especially given the nationalist attitudes and behavior of some non-Russian groups. But so far, Moscow officials appear to understand just how dangerous the appearance of an ethnic Russian republic would be for a country that is more than a quarter non-Russian in terms of population.

What remains to be seen is whether the rise of demands from below for “ethnic Russian republics” may prove even more dangerous, either because they further exacerbate relations among the nationalities of the Russian Federation or because such declarations highlight the impotence of the center to prevent such developments.

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