Thursday, August 11, 2016

Karelian Calls on Putin to Protect Minorities from ‘Great Power Chauvinism’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, said that there were two dangers in nationality policy – “local nationalism” among non-Russians and “great power chauvinism” among Russians. These had to be fought, he said, by the non-Russians and the Russians respectively rather than be the subject of mutual attacks.

            For most of the Soviet period, Moscow did far more to combat “local nationalism” than it did to counter “great power chauvinism” because it viewed the basic characteristics of the latter as a lesser evil since it was thought to promote the unity of the state and the former as the greater evil because it was viewed as a threat to that unity.

            With the demise of the USSR, these two terms largely disappeared from public discourse. Instead, the new Russian leadership focused on “nationalist extremism” as such, finding it primarily among non-Russians such as the Chechens but also at least on occasion among ethnic Russians as well.

            Now, in what may be an unexpected development, complaints about “great power chauvinism” have resurfaced; and in what is certain to spark controversy, a representative of the non-Russian segment of the population is calling on the Kremlin to fight it, an appeal that has the potential to further divide Russians and non-Russians, something Lenin tried to avoid.

            Anatoly Grigoryev, president of the Karelian Congress, has sent a letter to Putin calling on him to help combat “great power chauvinism” among Russians in the Karelian Republic and help the Karels and Finns for whom the republic was created ( and

            In his appeal, copies of which were sent to the presidents of Estonia and Finland as well, the Karelian activist says that “the russification of Karels and Finns is being actively carried out in a way that shows that nationality policy there is guided by rather than directed against “’great power chauvinism.’”

            At present, Grigoryev says, Karels and Finns form only two to three percent of the population of their republic. The majority of them do not speak their native languages. In the republic parliament, there are few deputies from these national groups and none of them know their own peoples’ languages.

            Moreover, he continues, “the only Finnish national theater in Russia (in Petrozavodsk) has become a Russian-language institution” and the authorities have refused to support the continued publication of the journal “Carelia” in its former size and frequency.

            But what is most distressing, he suggests, is that the social and economic conditions of the Karels and Finns in Karelia is “clearly worse than the position of the Russian language majority.”  And that too, he argues, is contributing to their “moral degradation and ethnic degeneration.”

            Grigoryev reminds Putin that all this “violates” Russian law and Russia’s international obligations and constitutes “a threat to the state security of Russia.” Given the Kremlin leader’s concerns about that, he must “provide the necessary state support to Karels and Finns living in the Republic of Karelia.

            But his decision to issue an open appeal to Putin, with copies to the leaders of Estonia and Finnland, and his use of the term “great power chauvinism” suggests not only the increasing desperation of the minorities in Karelia but also his own willingness to elevate their fight to a new level, one that seems certain to present real problems for the Kremlin in the future.

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