Saturday, March 18, 2017

Russian Civic Nation ‘Already Exists,’ Doesn’t Need to be Declared or Defined, Kremlin Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 18 – Two weeks ago, efforts by the working group Vladimir Putin set up to define the meaning of a civic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya) collapsed when the leaders of that group announced that they were refocusing a draft law on nationality policy more generally (

            But yesterday, Magomedsalam Magomedov, the Presidential Administration official who oversees nationality policy, said the working group itself was responsible for the negative reaction its earlier discussions produced in the media (

            Moreover, he continued, “the civic Russian nation is a fait accompli: the Russian language unites all of us, and the ethnic Russian people are the nation-forming” core of the Russian state. In short, Magomedov has simply declared as existing that which Putin and his working group supposedly had been working to define.

            That top-down authoritarian definition will not please very many people. Most Russian nationalists, for example, will view it as a denigration of their status as a separate ethnic nation; and most non-Russians will continue to view it as a threat to their continued existence as separate and distinct communities.

            But it is consistent with Putin’s approach: inviting discussion and then, when the discussion doesn’t go in the direction he wants, simply ignoring the issues opponents have raised and declaring that what he wanted is what will be, despite the warnings of many about the dangers of doing so (

            Academician Valery Tishkov, the chairman of the working group, reiterated his earlier statement that the draft law to be presented to Putin should focus, in its title at least, not on the formation of a Russian civic nation but on nationality policy more generally. According to Nazaccent, he asked “for another month” to come up with a draft.

            Vyacheslav Mikhailov, another former nationalities minister who now teaches at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service and who proposed the idea of such a law last year, said that the group should “take out of the lexicon the phrase, “’formation of a civic Russian nation’” because such “a nation already exists.”

            What the draft should focus on, he suggested, was “not its creation but its strengthening.”  His further comments showed what he means by this and why the conflict over this latest step in nationality policy is not going to end debate but rather provoke more in the coming weeks.

            Mikhailov said that “the Russian people, which is the system-forming part for the civic Russian nation, now is in a not very good situation. The central oblasts of the country where a large part of the Russian population has lived since time immemorial needs particular support” to reverse demographic and social trends there.

            According to the Nazaccent report, his remarks which involved “a project for the revival of the small motherland” for people in that region “were recognized as interesting” by the working group.  But even the members of that group said that Mikhailov’s notion “requires further development.”

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