Sunday, June 28, 2020

Georgia and Ukraine Show the Way for Non-Russians to Move from Narrowly Ethnic to Broader Civic Nationalism, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – At a time when Moscow is increasing its repression of non-Russian nations and republics, leaders of those nations need to move beyond the defense of narrow ethnic goals to broader ethno-political one so that they can attract support from other groups living among them, Harun Sidorov says.

            That is the message that developments in Georgia and Ukraine over the past two decades provide where the national movements shifted from “the old nationalism” of ethnic grievance alone to “the new nationalism” of the defense of all residents of those republics, the Russian convert to Islam says (

            Had the movements in those two countries stayed with the old nationalism of ethnic grievance alone, they would have alienated rather than attracted those whom they needed to become their allies; and by shifting to the new civic nationalism, they gained support -- even though at times this change bothered many of the traditional nationalists in both.
            The same considerations apply to the non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation. Movements in Ingushetia, Kalmykia, Komi, Bashkortostan, Buryatia and Sakha have gained traction precisely when they moved from being concerned only about the defense of their cultures to broader social and political issues.

            National movements elsewhere, which continue “to limit their activity to the defense of dying cultures in the Internet or even such acts of despair as the self-immolation of Albert Razin, today often produce a stupefying impression.” They may attract short-term attention and warm words from their own communities but they can seldom do more than that, Sidorov suggests.

            He discusses two cases where the nationalists have made this shift successfully. In the Komi Republic, the national movement is now being led by a Protestant pastor, Sergey Elfimov, whose very presence undercuts traditional ideas about the Komi and whose environmental program attracts not only Komis but representatives of other nations.

            That is critical because in the Komi Republic, only 23 percent of the population consists of Komis. Any movement based only on their concerns is thus fated to be marginal and to fail.  What Elfimov is promoting is the idea that all residents of the republic have many common interests and even that “’we are all Komis,’” regardless of ethnicity.

            And in Bashkortostan, Ayrat Dilmukhametov is another such advocate of a broader civic nationalism. Now in prison after being convicted for the fifth time, he has been promoting a civic Bashkir nationalism since the 1990s, arguing for the union of all nations in Bashkortostan and against other Bashkir nationalists who favor fighting only for ethnic causes.

            In both cases, Sidorov says, we can see the emergence of national movements and leaders of “a new type,” who are seeking to escape from the constraints of “’the old nationalism” and win over representatives of other nations to the cause of the defense of the republics and thus of their titular nations as well.

            Many traditional nationalists view such efforts as defeatist and a dangerous compromise with the Russians in particular, but facts are facts, Sidorov writes. Those groups who remain in the grip of “’the old nationalists” will not be able to attract others to their cause and will lose the backing of many of the members of their own groups as well. 

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