Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Experts Fear Discussion of Putin-Backed Russian Nation Law will Spark New Ethnic Conflicts

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Although many Moscow commentators suggest Russians are largely indifferent to the proposed new law on the status of the Russian nation, others say that even the discussion of that measure, especially given its current lack of clear definition, could by itself spark new ethnic conflicts.

            Among those taking the latter position are the leaders of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau which has prepared a position paper that has been sent to key government officials and experts but that has not yet been published. Yesterday, “Izvestiya” on the basis of a copy provided an initial commentary (

            At least in part to ensure that its proposals will not be rejected out of hand, the document begins by asserting that it backs the idea of a new law because it will in the opinion of the group “create a legitimate basis for the civic consolidation” of the citizens of the Russian Federation.”

            But the document continues, “it is necessary to prevent the discussion around the idea of creating such a federal law” from sparking in one or another part of the Russian Federation “nationalistic or xenophobic” ideas and from “dishonest and risky ethno-political interpretations.” 

            “At the same time,” the document continues, such “civic unity must not be treated as an all-embracing uniformity” that would threaten the identities of various groups. To that end, the Moscow Human Rights Bureau called for the development of principles to guide the discussion and the activity of officials who deal with it.

            That is especially important, Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau said, because at present the number of crimes arising from ethnic hatred has fallen but “there exist definite risks connected both with socio-economic difficulties and problems in the sphere of cultural legal education” that could reverse that trend.

            Duma deputies with whom “Izvestiya” spoke agreed that it is absolutely necessarily to approach the issue of a law on the Russian nation “wisely,” “unhurriedly” and with extreme care lest people say things that have the effect of leading to problems.  Many independent commentators share that view.

            But others say that the biggest problem with any law on the Russian nation may lie elsewhere. Aleksey Makarkin, the deputy director of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, suggests that most people are not going to take this legislation seriously because they have seen so much declarative law that is never enforced.

            “We have a great many ‘decorative’ decuments,” he says, and “another one isn’t going to change the weather,” certainly not one that tries to define the Russian nation. Instead, Makarkin suggested, as have others, that the more critical part of the new law will be the section on how to resolve inter-ethnic conflicts. At present, too few people are talking about that.

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