Staunton, May 28 -- Mikhail Shcheglov, a leading Russian nationalist in the Republic of Tatarstan, says that non-Russian republics have become such “a sacred cow” in public opinion across the country that even ethnic Russians who dare to criticize them or seek their elimination are now often denounced as Russophobes.
And that is true even among those who recognize that ethnic-based asymmetric federalism led to the demise of the USSR and continues to create problems for Russia, the head of the Society of Russian Culture of the Republic of Tatarstan and a leader of the Russian Assembly (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=38294).
Lenin may have saved the empire by his clever use of promises to non-Russians about the right of self-determination, Shcheglov says; but the system he put in place has been a disaster, although far too few Russians recognize that because some Russian elites are more than ready to exploit the existence of non-Russian republics to promote their own interests at the expense of the Russian nation.
According to the Russian nationalist, this harmful pattern was fully documented by Aleksandr Salagayev in his 2012 book, Russian Asymmetric Ethno-Federalism as a Source of Conflicts (in Russian, Moscow: ROC at onflictmanagement.ru/rossiyskaya-assimetrichnaya-etnofederatsiya-kak-istochnik-protivorechiy-i-konfliktov/).
As a result of this, Shcheglov continues, Russophobia exists “not only among non-Russian ‘brothers’ in the country and among its neighbors but also among ethnic Russians themselves” who know that if they call for doing away with the republics, they “inevitably” will be called chauvinists even though by staying silent they are sacrificing the interests and values of the Russian nation.
When this will change, he laments, is unclear. There was no widespread push to do away with the non-Russian republics during the recent discussion of constitutional change, and there seems to be sadly little interest in taking what is no more than defending the Russian nation even among Russians themselves.
The situation in Chechnya and Tyva shows the direction things are moving: the elites are loyal to Moscow at least for show, but the populations are increasingly hostile to Russians; and Russian elites who cooperate with the Chechen and Tyvan elites have concluded they are better off with such entities lest the demise f republics lead to the loss of rice bowls for themselves.
“Many experts say,” Shcheglov continues, “that this very ethnic asymmetry of the state system means that today’s Russia is becoming a copy of the USSR on the eve of its disintegration.” And the pandemic may be exacerbating this, with some predicting massive protests in the fall leading to a similar outcome.
Shcheglov’s language is hyperbolic, but it is noteworthy for three reasons. First, his remarks call into question the assumption that Putin gains support among Russians when he targets non-Russian republics for extinction. In fact, Russian support fr such moves may be far less than the Kremlin or others assume.
Second, his words call attention to the fact that many of the chief beneficiaries of the existence of non-Russian republics are ethnic Russians who have learned to make use of them for their own purposes and would oppose doing away with these structures regardless of the ethnic issues that many have assumed are predominant.
And third, Shcheglov highlights the reality that Russian elites and Russian masses are divided, a pattern that makes the emergence of any truly powerful Russian nationalist movement problematic if not impossible at least in the short term. In fact, one can read this Russian nationalist’s article as a cry of despair on that point.