Staunton, November 27 – Vladimir Putin’s tilt toward ethnic Russians over non-Russian ones as reflected in his language and personnel policies is now encouraging a group of ethnic Russians in a village in Khabarovsk kray to demand that they be given the same privileges for themselves as those the state has traditionally extended to the numerically small peoples there.
The specific case may seem quite small: some 60 ethnic Russians living in the village of Arka are preparing to sue the government in an effort to obtain the same fishing quotas that the majority Evens, an indigenous population there, has long had (todaykhv.ru/news/in-areas-of-the-province/9488/ and /nazaccent.ru/content/26028-russkie-zhiteli-sela-v-habarovskom-krae.html).
But as the local news agency reports, such a case is not only “unprecedented” but completely ignores why the Russian government had extended these privileges to the numerically small peoples: Such groups need this kind of protection of their traditional way of life to survive.
The Russians launching this suit, however, have ignored that principle and instead are arguing that simple equity requires that they be treated equally because they live there. If their suit prevails – and in the current environment that is entirely possible – the entire system of ethnic preferences that has kept many of Russia’s smallest peoples going will collapse.
Not only will that violate the Russian constitution and Moscow’s agreements as part of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, but it will put at risk the survival of the 26 indigenous peoples of the Russian North and the 13 Amur peoples who have survived this long only because Russian law has given them special protections.
Those are the most serious consequences of this development, but the case is instructive for another reason: In Putin’s Russia, the Kremlin cannot always control the way in which its policies will be read by the population and how Russians may use Putin’s remarks in ways that do not necessarily reflect his goals.
Or, and even more disturbingly, such small actions reflect precisely what he intends and thus point to a Russia where any special consideration for the non-Russian quarter of the population is going to be rejected by the state and in which Russians will be encouraged to view any demands that their rights be respected as fundamentally illegitimate.
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