Saturday, July 18, 2015

Russia Wouldn’t Have a Nationality Agency If There Weren’t Problems, New Head Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Igor Barinov, the head of the newly-created Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, says that the Russian government would not have set up such an institution if there were not real problems that need to be addressed lest they lead to social and political explosions.

            In his first interview in the job, given to this week, Barinov, who early served in the FSB Alpha Group and as a Duma deputy, says that “inter-ethnic problems are eternal” and that they can often unexpectedly easily become dangerous if they are not addressed (

            According to the nationalities agency chief, the most serious problems Russia faces today are connected with “the active expansion of radical Islam, illegal migration, and ISIS.”  Dealing with them in the first instance is the task of the security services, but the naitnalities agency “can influence on the situation.”

            By monitoring the situation and bringing expertise to bear, Barinov says, “we must minimize risks and act so that young people will not go off to Syria and Iraq in search of new means and ideas from the extremists. We must offer them an ideology based on traditional Russian values.”

            He acknowledged that he had no ready-made recipes on how best to do that. If it were otherwise, Barinov suggests, “the Agency for Nationality Affairs would be in the running for a Nobel Prize and a monument to each staffer would be going up on Red Square in Moscow.”

            In other comments, Barinov says, he finds it difficult to explain why the spread of Islamist radicalism has taken place so quickly. His own experience with the Osetin-Ingush conflict in 1993, however, suggests that it has happened largely as a result of the influx of radical Muslims from abroad who give an Islamist coloration to local problems.

            There are ways to counter that, he suggests. On the one hand, Chechnya has shown that this can be done “successfully” through the establishment of a local system of Islamic education so that Muslims do not need to look abroad for people who can lead their communities and define their views.

            And on the other, Barinov says, monitoring can be improved so that Moscow is not always having to play catch up, analyzing ethnic and religious problems only after they break into violence. What is needed is the kind of monitoring that identifies where the problems are so that they can be addressed before that happens.

            To set up such a system, he continues, he has hired Sergey Khaikin, the creator of the Moscow Institute for Social Marketing and someone Barinov calls “a coryphaeus of ethno-sociology.” 

            The Agency he heads is still quite small, Barinov says, with 100 staffers and three deputies divided into four administrations for monitoring, subsidizing work by others, supporting the rise of a non-ethnic Russian nation, and administration.  It will work through local officials for the time being but plans to have its own people around the country in the future.

            He stresses that his agency is going to “form state nationality policy, not the ministry of this or that subject or in the apparatus of this or that governor” and warns that anyone who challenges that will face serious consequences from Moscow, given that his institution “was H

            Barinov says he will do everything he can to support the Russian language and the unity of the non-ethnic Russian political nation. That means ensuring that Russian language instruction is nowhere cut either by having students studying other languages of the people of the Russian Federation or foreign languages as has happened in some predominantly Russian regions.

            The Agency head concludes that he is very aware that it is “easy to disorient people who have lived for centuries next to one another, how easy it is to cross a border and a conflict occur” as a result of ordinary problems or how something no one noticed in the past can suddenly become critically important.

            “A clear example of that,” he says, “are the events in Ukraine.” An enormous country has fallen apart, and it is unclear “how this will end.”  “By the way,” Barinov concludes, “[his] wife has Ukrainian roots so that [their] marriage is to a certain extent inter-ethnic. True, [they have lived together 25 years but only thought about this recently – only after the events in Ukraine.”

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