Saturday, November 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Nationality Issue Destroying Russia Just as It Destroyed USSR, Tatar Editor Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 15 – The nationality issue together with “the crisis in the political economy of socialism” destroyed the Soviet Union a generation ago. “Today in Russia, we observe almost the same picture,” with the growth of Russian nationalism trigger “the responsive growth of the nationalism” of the non-Russians, according to the editor of a Tatarstan weekly.


            Non-Russians are responding in this way because, under current circumstances, it is the only way that they can hope to block “cultural assimilation,” Rashit Akhmetov of “Zvezda Povolzhya” says. Moreover, “the smaller the people, the more it has to do so because the loss of national culture leads to the disappearance of the ethnos.”


            Were it what he calls “’elevated’ Russian nationalism,” a nationalism committed to democracy and freedom, that might not be the case, but what is now being promoted is not that but rather “great power Russian nationalism which is hostile” not only to democracy but to the best traditions of Russian culture (“Zvezda Povolzhya,” 42 (722), 13-19.XI.14, p. 1).


            As three decades ago, he continues, one can only be shocked by the Kremlin’s approach to nationality issues: its proclivity to see the correct response to any and all challenges being the use of force and the celebration of a single nation rather than recognizing that a democratic requires negotiation and compromise with all its peoples.


            And that single nation is not nearly as predominant as the Kremlin believes, something that adds to the dangers of acting in this way, Akhmetov says.  There are at least 10 million immigrants in the Russian Federation, and there are “approximately 20 million” non-Russians and “approximately 40 million ‘half Russians,’” people of mixed ethnic background.


            That means, the Kazan editor says, that “there are not so many pure Russians in Russia, perhaps they represent even less than half of the population.”


            This is “well confirmed” by elections, he continues. A maximum of 20 percent of the population votes “for the ideas of Russian nationalism.” At the very least, 70 million residents of the Russian Federation are cautious about or even negatively inclined to the slogan “’Russia for the ethnic Russians,’” as a result at least in part of their own ethnic background.


            Among elites in the country, opposition to this slogan is even higher, perhaps as much as 90 percent, given that the most members of the elites are in fact not ethnically Russian and fully understand the importance of a democratic and European choice for the country. 


            Thus the slogan “Russia for the ethnic Russians” can’t work for very long. The only slogan that can work is “friendship of the peoples,” something that is impossible if the regime in Moscow keeps proclaiming that only one people, the ethnic Russians, are “a state-forming people” and all the others are somehow only hangers on.


            A failure to recognize this reality can lead to serious, potentially fateful mistakes. Moscow’s current push to deprive Tatarstan of the office of presidency is an example of this, Akhmetov says. Indeed, it “could be a historic Rubicon,” the crossing of which will involve “the subconscious alienation” of the Tatars from Moscow, an alienation that even flexibility on other issues won’t overcome.


            What should happen is a referendum on the matter, and the outcome of that referendum must be respected. If that does not happen, then the danger to the Russian Federation, the Kazan editor suggests, could be really dangerous indeed.





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