Staunton, September 26 – Russia will not be able to build a functioning democracy or even survive in its current borders unless it overcomes what Kiril Rodionov says is “the de facto taboo” on “the cultural expansion of migrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus republics” and recognizes how important it is that such people adopt Russian values.
In an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” yesterday, Rodionov, a scholar at the Presidential Academy of Economics and State Service, challenges not just that taboo but several widely held views about how Russia is different from the USSR and from the countries of Western Europe when it comes to immigration (ng.ru/ideas/2013-09-25/5_tabu.html).
Arguing that multi-culturalism is “incompatible with democracy,” Rodionov says that Russian citizens must deal with the reality that “that which is acceptable in Gudermes and Makhachkala is not the norm in Krasnodar and Rostov-na-Donu” and either force migrants to adapt or face the prospect that Russia will never be a democracy or even survive as a country.
“Present-day Russia,” he argues, “is a country which has still not completed the transition from empire to a nation state. If the key task of an empire is the holding together of various nations in a single fraternal yoke, then the main goal of a nation state is the preservation and development of one nation.”
In Soviet times, the regime used the propiska system to limit migration, thus keeping most non-Russians in their national homelands and keeping a significant number of ethnic Russians there as well. But with the collapse of the USSR and of that system, Russians have fled non-Russian areas, allowing those to become more distinctly non-Russian, and non-Russians have come to Russian areas but insisted on retaining their identities when they do.
According to Rodionov, “a cultural community is a precondition of the unity of a political-legal space, and the absence of cultural ties between this or that region is often a precondition for the collapse of the country.” The Soviet Union’s demise is a clear example of this.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Moscow “did not completely control what was taking place in the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia.” Instead, it backed “the dictatorial regimes” of communist first secretaries there, providing them with massive assistance in exchange for loyalty and the maintenance of order.
That same approach has guided the central Russian government more recently, particularly in the North Caucasus where the same exchange is going on, with one major exception: Given Russian flight, the republics there are far less acculturated to Russian norms than they were, and more of their residents are nonetheless coming to Russian cities.
Whatever some liberals believe, the institutions of a democratic legal state, Rodionov insists, cannot rest on economic and political “unification alone.” Instead, they require shared cultural values. Where those are absent, the state will not be democratic and will face disintegration.
Russia over the last two decades has repeated the mistakes of the migration policies of Western Europe: it has allowed people from its former colonies to enter almost at will and to form “ethnic enclaves” in major cities in which these non-Russian migrants live their own lives according to their own rules.
The mistaken notion that multiculturalism will work in Russia, Rodionov continues, rests on “the values of Soviet internationalism, which were deeply rooted in the time of the USSR and up to now have a definite weight in society, especially among the intelligentsia and the political elite,” who see nothing wrong with ethnic lobbying and even play to it.
All migrants “must live in the cultural field of a state that is new for them,” and they must bear the costs of adapting.” If the receiving state doesn’t insist on this, then the receiving society will have to pay the costs, a situation that Rodionov says is “not natural” because a migrant can always leave while a native cannot.
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