Wednesday, May 17, 2017

‘If We Called Ourselves Siberians, Moscow Would Tear Us Apart,’ Krasnodar Official Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 17 – Moscow residents are quite free to call themselves Muscovites, Rashit Rafikov, an aide to the governor of Krasnoyarsk kray; but “if we were to try to call ourselves ‘Siberians,’ they would certainly tear us into little pieces,” a reflection of the terminological confusion surrounding nationality issues in Russia today.

            Rafikov’s comments came at a meeting in Kazan yesterday at which was discussed the latest draft of the new law on state nationality policy that is supposed to be ready for adoption by August 1 and showed that there is more than a little fear about and opposition to the measure as drawn up so far (

            The Krasnoyarsk official spoke for many when he said that “the biggest problem for work on a strategy of state nationality policy in the regions is the lack of an agreed upon terminology for nationality issues. ‘Titular’ nation, ‘aboriginal’ population, and ‘Russian majority’ are understood by each person in his own way.

            As a result, Rafikov said, “we are forced to conduct unending arguments with lawyers and up until now we have not been hurrying to adopt a strategy for the realization of state nationality policy in Krasnoayrsk kray.”

            As reported by, the latest draft helps to explain why many non-Russians are concerned.  “According to the draft of the conception of the draft law, the goal of state nationality policy of the Russian Federation is the preservation of Russian society as a civic nation in all the multiplicity of its cultures and languages and the creation of conditions for the further development of all nationalities and ethnic communities of the country.”

            More seriously, the new draft explicitly criticizes what it describes as the past ractice of treating nations and peoples strictly in “an ethnic sense,” something that it suggests inevitably generates a crisis in countries “with a complex ethno-confessional composition of the population” and can lead to their demise as in the case of the USSR.

            “Contemporary nations,” the draft says, “are to be understood as sovereign civil societies under a common state power,” something most non-Russians and many ethnic Russians will see as a diminution of their standing as nations, despite the drafts statement that state policy will seek to protect “the ethnocultural and linguistic variety” of the Russian population.

            The draft law goes on to define the civic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya) as “the community of citizens of the Russian Federation of various ethnic, religious, social and other memberships who recognize their historical and civic community and political-legal ties with the Russian state and with Russian [rossiiskaya] culture.”

            That formulation too is certain to be attacked by ethnic Russians who believe they are representatives of a uniquely Russian [russkaya] culture and by non-Russians who believe that this term, like the Soviet people of USSR times, represents a direct attack on their uniqueness of nations as well.

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