Sunday, October 30, 2016

Promoting Civic Russian Identity Puts Russia on the Path to Soviet-Style Disintegration, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – On the basis of the Russian strategy for nationality policy over the next decade, the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs is calling for the introduction of required courses in higher educational institutions to promote a common civic Russian identity among the peoples of the Russian Federation.

            But that tactic which resembles the American notion of society as “a melting pot” and recalls the promotion of “friendship of the peoples” in Soviet times will put the Russian Federation on the same path of disintegration that led to the end of the USSR, according to some Russian commentators.

In a survey of their views for the Svobodnaya pressa portal, journalist Aleksey Polubota says that the nationalities agency thinks that “the unity of all-civic values will help defend the country against extremism and nationalism” but fails to take into consideration how similar Soviet policies led to the end of the USSR (

“As we understand,” he continues, “the policy of ‘friendship of the peoples’ in the USSR had as its result the decision of the peoples to go their separate ways as nationalities.” And it did this even among “peoples about the existence of which before the Soviet period one could speak in the most conditional way.”

Pavel Svaytenko, a Moscow political analyst who focuses on ethnic issues, completely agrees. He says that “in reality what we are dealing with is a continuation of Soviet policy. In the USSR, they attempted to create a certain new community, the Soviet people. All this policy ended with a complete collapse. Now they are trying to repeat everything the Soviets did.”

Svyatenkov says that “it is possible of course to talk endlessly about friendship of the peoples on television, to organize choral groups and dance the lezginka. But all this, as the experience of the USSR showed, doesn’t work. ‘Friendship of the peoples’ continues only until serious problems in the state arise.”

He is especially critical of the Kremlin’s unwillingness to name the ethnic Russians as the state-forming people, a status many non-Russian republics have already given to their titular nationalities.  “Russian identity,” he suggests, “is a term which is quite without content today,” in sharp contrast to the identities of many non-Russian nations.

“If such processes will be continued,” Svyatenko argues, “we could reach the point when let us say a Novgorod republic will appear which will remind Moscow of its medieval mistreatment and declare itself a separate nation” completely at odds with the ethnic Russians of today.

Valery Korovin, the director of the Moscow Center for Geopolitical Expertise and a member of the Social Chamber, extends this argument.  He says that Russian liberals have taken from the Americans the idea of a civic nation consisting of atomized individuals rather than of communities of ethnicity or faith.

In essence, he suggests, this idea represents the imposition on Russia of the American ideal of “a melting pot,” and he blames the work of influential people such as the former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and former nationalities minister Valery Tishkov.

Not only “is this model destructive of ethnic and cultural diversity,” Korovin says, but it doesn’t work in Europe or even in the US. And trying to impose it on Russia as Tishkov and others are doing is “a horribly irresponsible undertaking.”

Russia historically has consisted of collective communities not atomized individuals and that pattern should be preserved rather than attacked.  What Moscow should be pursuing, Korovin argues, is “strategic multiplicity,” a state in which all of the ethnic and religious entities have a place.

The current nationality strategy doctrine contains within it “two mutually exclusive theses,” he continues. On the one hand, it calls for the promotion of an all-civic nation; but on the other, it insists that it respects ethnic groups and confessions. Liberals use this to hide what they are trying to do, to “transform Russians into a civic biomass.”

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