Sunday, December 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Regions ‘Quietly Sabotaging’ Moscow’s Nationality Policy, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Even as the Russian government takes the first steps to shift responsibility for inter-ethnic peace onto the leaderships of the federal subjects, a Russian expert has warned that “in certain regions,” what is going on with respect to the implementation of nationality policy can only be described as “quiet sabotage.”

            Margarita Lyange, head of the Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalism, made that comment on Thursday at the first of what are slated to be ten conferences on the Strategy for State Nationality Policy up to 2025 that was adopted a year ago and one that will be considered in the Duma this week (

            She suggested that in many cases, officials in the regions lack an understanding of what this document is about or assume they can ignore it.  And she called on the media and on leaders of national communities to talk about it lest its contents be distorted by “pseudo-experts” who will criticize “without offering anything in exchange.”

            Vladimir Zorin, deputy director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and one of the organizers of the session, agreed but suggested that there needs to be a central institution responsible for some of the strategy’s key provisions such as helping gastarbeiters to adapt to Russian conditions.

            But Aleksandr Zhuravsky, director of the department of state policy in the area of inter-ethnic relations of the Russian regional affairs ministry, said that everyone should remember that the strategy document outlines “a process” rather than being a single “act.”  He added that he expects “the situation will be changed significantly by the end of the year.”

            Another speaker, Mikhail Vasilyev, who oversees nationality policy in the Presidential Administration, noted that earlier last week, the Council of Inter-Ethnic Relations meeting in Ufa had taken four key decisions: to create a [non-ethnic] Russian Nation Foundation, a prize for contributions to the strengthening of the Russian nation, to create a government center to monitor ethnic developments, and to set up adaptation centers for migrants in various regions.

            The Ufa meeting was rather more contentious than Vasilyev’s simple listing suggests.  According to Rashit Akhmetov, editor of “Zvezda Povolzhya,” there were “arguments” over whether the monitoring system should be a single one combining the work of the MVD, MVD, FSO, prosecutors and the force structures or consist of several competing entities (

            Akhmetov reports that Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, “insisted that the world of the monitoring network be as a matter of principle non-governmental” because that is the only way it can be sufficiently independent to make a real contribution.

            “I doubt,” Tishkov said, that any government system alone will provide “independent” expertise in this area. “Officials still need to be taught how to use literature and to read scientific analyses and not just polls” or Internet reports, he said.  And they need to be willing to accept reporting that brings to their attention information and conclusions they don’t like.

            Tishkov, who recently closed down the network of ethnic monitoring he had operated for 20 years, said he had never received any “complaints” about its findings from officials at the federal level. “But in the regions,” it has been a different matter. One of his monitors was given a suspended sentence and another is in jail because officials did not like what the monitors found.

            And the Moscow academician added that in his view, “the line of the government’s ethno-national policy ... is unfortunately still not generally recognized and that there are still many opponents and skeptics.” The country’s leadership “and the president personally” must stand firm to ensure its implementation.

            In summing up the Ufa meeting, Akhmetov reminded his readers that “the Russian Empire collapsed as a result of the nationality question. The Soviet Union collapsed because of the nationality question – and these people propose to spend 20 trillion rubles on defense” without thinking about who will be doing the fighting.

            “Ten to 15 years from now, the Russian army will be half Muslim,” Akhmetov said. “The fraction of Afro-Americans in the US is less than the fraction of Muslims in Russia, but look at how carefully Hollywood films present a policy of tolerance among blacks and whites.”

            And then contrast that with what is taking place in the Russian Federation where Islamophobia is spreading.  Failure to counter messages of hatred will lead to disaster, the independent editor said.  Consequently, any “economy in the solution of nationality problems will inevitably lead to the disintegration of Russia.”

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