Sunday, February 16, 2020

Non-Russians have Good Reason to Fear Constitutional Amendments and So Should Russians as Well, Garifullin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – Ever more non-Russians recognize that Vladimir Putin’s program of constitutional reform both by what he will succeed in imposing on that document and even more by what others are pushing and thus adumbrating Moscow’s policies are a direct attack on federalism, the existence of non-Russian republics, and the future of their nations.

            Ilnar Garifullin, who writes for the Idel.Real portal, says that what is taking place in Moscow represents a concerted attack on the non-Russians and their republics but will backfire on the Russian government, generate further instability, and thus threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (

            Calls to change the preamble of the Constitution threaten to transform both in law and in practice the Russian Federation into “simply ‘Russia,’” he says, and Academician Valery Tishkov’s call to insert language in Article 2 about a non-ethnic Russian nation as the goal of the state would reinforce that, the Tatar commentator says.

            Especially threatening are calls, from Duma leaders like Vyacheslav Nikonov, to eliminate references to “the multi-national people” and replace them with the curious but dangerous term “the multi-people non-ethnic Russian nation,’” an idea that flows directly from Tishkov’s suggestion.

            And the KPRF has called for the insertion into the country’s basic law of language about ethnic Russians as “’the state forming people,’” a proposal that has been celebrated by “many chauvinistically inclined political circles who dream about the rebirth of the Russian Empire” and nationality and religious policies that would promote that.

            These initiatives, Garifulliln suggests, “do not simply destroy the current federative system of our country but are in the closest possible way connected with each other.”  And that means that even if none of them is adopted, they reflect a broad swath of opinion in Moscow and are likely to drive policy in the future.

            What does all this mean? The answer is clear: replacing “nation” with “people” “automatically presupposes that the peoples of Russia will lose their status as subjects … In essence, the republic-forming ethno-nations will be reduced to the level of some ethnographic groups.”  And “once there are no nations but only those, they won’t have status as subjects.”

            The non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation will thus be lowered “to the level of some Indians or aborigines, for whom at most there will exist territories where they live, folklore, and nothing more.”

            And in support of this is “a tight ideological union among the party leadership of the KPRF which remains attached to Leninist traditions, the Orthodox Church, and the monarchist-black hundreds.  An interesting combination! … What kind of state are they proposing to build for us?”

            There has been a clear sign that those holding these views are already moving as the debate on the amendments continues. That was the retirement of Ildar Gilmutdinov from his post as head of the Duma’s committee on nationality affairs – “a signal that from now on, the peoples of the Russian Federation should not have any even formal or status levers of influence.”

            That is because, Garifullin continues, Gilmutdinov from Daghestan and a sometime defender of national rights has been replaced by the Russian Oleg Nikolayev who was at the center of the scandal that arose when Vladimir Putin decided to make the study of non-Russian languages voluntary.

            This unholy alliance against the republics, he says, clearly has as it working slogan: “One country, one faith, and one people,” but the non-Russians should not give up because by moving in this direction, Moscow and its agents are driving the country ever more deeply into “an era of instability” from which it is likely to emerge as a very different place than these people want.

            Their attacks on non-Russian nations and non-Orthodox religions not only are energizing those for whom these identities are important, but they are elevating the values of both for many in the Russian Federation who have not devoted much attention to them.  Thus, those pushing for a revived empire are creating their own nemeses just as has happened before.

            Even so, the non-Russians cannot “completely stop the process of changing the Constitution.”  But by protesting and showing the counterproductive nature of many of the notions being spread about, we can “stop the flood of insane ideas.”  If we fail to do so, he says, then “after the changes in the Constitution we will really wake up in a different country.” 

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