Wednesday, October 31, 2018

For Moscow, Non-Russians Abroad with Roots in Russia aren’t Russian Compatriots

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Once again, Moscow is hosting a World Congress of Russian Compatriots (rossiiskiye sootechestvennniki); and once again, no non-Russians have been invited, a pattern that undercuts Kremlin claims that it views the non-Russians as genuinely part of the broader non-Russian nation Vladimir Putin is constantly talking about.

            “We do not divide people by nationality or citizenship,” Ilya Dorofeyev of the Russian Foreign Ministry says; but among the 400 delegates from 98 countries at the Moscow meeting this week, there is not a single non-ethnic Russian. Instead, all are ethnic Russians and all the focus is on ethnic Russian issues (

                Among the topics to be discussed are: “The Preservation of Ethnic Russian Identity: The Support of Russian-Language Education,” “The Media of the Ethnic Russian Diaspora in the Contemporary World,” “The Defense of the Rights and Legitimate Interests of Compatriots,” and so on. 

            There is not a single session on non-Russians or non-Russian issues; and representatives of non-Russians within the Russian Federation who have significant co-ethnic communities are anything but pleased about this.  Among the angriest are the Circassians whose co-ethnics in the Middle East very much want to return to their homeland but have been largely blocked.

            Asker Sokht, the head of the Adyge Khase in Krasnodar, is among them. “Is there no need to preserve the identity of Circassians or Tatars abroad?” The Russian foreign ministry “should be interested” in them as well – or at a minimum to explain exactly why not given Moscow’s claims that it now supports a non-ethnic Russian identity for the country.

            Nusreta Basha, the head of the Circassian Federation in Turkey, tells Laris Cherkes of Radio Liberty that “no one invited” any Circassians there to the meeting. “No one works with us.” Had we been invited, we would have come, she continues.  “We don’t like the policy of Russia with regard to the Circassians.”

            Basha continues: “A large part of the Circassians is in the diaspora.” (She doesn’t say but most estimates put the figure at above 90 percent, with more than five million Circassians living abroad and only about 500,000 in the North Caucasus.) “Russia closes its eyes and doesn’t see the Circassians and we do not agree with this.”

            Khafitse Mukhamed of the Adyge Khase in Kabardino-Balkaria is equally angry. He says no one told his group about the meeting despite the fact that many Circassians would have been interested in attending. And indeed, Cherkes says, that problem is general: no one in Circassian communities abroad or within the borders of the Russian Federation heard about the session.

            The message to non-Russian groups abroad is clear: if you are not ethnically Russian, you aren’t a Russian compatriot. But the message to non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation is equally so: when Moscow says rossiisky, the Russian world for non-ethnic Russian, it only has in mind russky, the Russian word for the ethnic group.

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