Staunton, October 11 – For some time, a debate has been raging between supporters of Russian or post-Russian regionalism and the defenders of ethnic republics, with the former accusing the latter of promoting ethnicity at the expense of regionalism and the latter responding that the former are guilty whether consciously or not of promoting Russification of the country.
And each accuses the other, Vadim Sidorov says, of wanting to “preserve the status quo politically, namely the present ruling class which in the case of the disintegration of Russia would simply divide up into dozens of regional/ethnocratic elites as occurred after the disintegration of the USSR” (region.expert/dilmukhametov/).
This debate, the regionalist commentator says, has proven remarkably sterile; but now someone has appeared who has proposed a vision of federalism in Russia that overcomes these divisions by promoting strong republic identities that have the capacity to protect the ethnic identities of their component populations.
That man is Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a Bashkir activist, who since joining Valeriya Novodvorskaya’s Democratic Union in 1989 has promoted ideas which put him at odds with both sides of the debate that has been going on since the end of Soviet times and landed him in prison for “extremism.”
During the parade of sovereignties, “when the nomenklatura really mimicked the role of ‘a national elite,’ Dilmukhametov unlike many Bashkir nationalists went over to irreconcilable opposition to the new master of Bashkortostan, Murtaza Rakhimov,” someone whose leadership some Bashkir nationalists to this day consider “’the golden age.’”
The activist criticized the corruption, incompetence and repression of Rakhimov and his regime and argued that what those living in his republic should be about is “not ethnocratic and nomenklatura” rule, “bur rather a ‘Maidan’ or “color” nationalism of freedom and development for all. In the early years of this century, he even published a newspaper called Maidan.
Dilmukhametov’s vision was and remains of a Bashkortostan “as a real republic and the capstone of a new federation formed from below on a voluntary basis” not by its replacement by a non-ethnic Ufa Gubernia as some wanted but by its development of a republic identity and republic structures that protected the rights of all ethnic groups.
Specifically, he has called for the development of “a Bashkir political nation” based not on the ethnic principle but rather “on the principle of republic patriotism” even though he recognizes that such an entity cannot be as “homogeneous” as the Ukrainian political nation for demographic reasons and thus will require a bicameral legislature with guaranteed representation for each of the major ethnic groups.
Related to this and in sharp contrast to many ethnic nationalists, he argues that “in the next several decades, the common language for all residents of the republic and therefore obligatory in schools will be Russian. Only Bashkirs will be required to study Bashkir in schools.” And he insists that ethnic identity must always and only be a personal choice.
Not surprisingly, all this puts him at odds with the ethnic nationalists. But his insistence on strong republics headed by people elected by the local population rather than assigned by Moscow puts him at odds with the Russian nationalists who want to suppress republics in the name of federalism.
And further complicating his position but also strengthening his arguments, “Dilmukhametov while being an irreconcilable opponent of Russian imperialism is not an ethnic Russophobe. On the contrary, he understands the tragic nature of the history of the Russians as a people.” And he calls for the creation of one or more Russian “republics” in the future.
Because he does not fit neatly into the schema of the two camps, Dilmukhametov is largely ignored. His case seldom attracts support from either group and his ideas are not promoted by anyone. However, they do represent a breakthrough from the current pointless back and forth and thus deserve to be examined by all sides.
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