Monday, June 1, 2020

Some Russians Want to Be Called ‘Great Russians’ in 2020 Census and Beyond

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – In tsarist times, the three main Slavic groups in the population were called the Great Russians (Velikorossy), the Little Russians (Malorossy), and the White Russians (Belorussy). Now, some ethnic Russian activists are calling for a restoration of the use of Velikorossy as a term of identity in the 2020 census and beyond.

            They are basing their calls on Vladimir Putin’s insistence that today’s Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are not three nations but one, but by advancing this demand, such people are unintentionally highlighting the extent to which Russian identity in its current form reflects in large measure not a thousand-year history but the policies of the Soviet state.

            It was, after all, the Soviet government and not any national movement that defined those who had called themselves and been called Great Russians as simply Russians to avoid offending the other two groups and to prevent such pretensions of Russian superiority over them from provoking an explosive negative reaction.

            Svobodnaya pressa commentator Veniamin Bashlachev recounts the history of the names Great Russian and Russian and argues that the fate of a people depends on the name it gives itself and demands that others give it as well and suggests that ever more people in Russia are recognizing that reality (

            He reports that on the internet there is now a page labelled “Velikoross. The Truth Sounds Beautiful” and quotes from it the words of a woman from the Altai who said that she had first read that word when she came upon it in a listing of her ancestors at the end of imperial times. “Imagine,” she said, “I am the descendant of my grandfather: I am a GREAT RUSSIAN.”

            According to Bashlachev, she has ever reason for delight and pride because “at the beginning of the 20th century, the Great Russians were the most numerous and must significant people of Russia.”  But the Bolsheviks took that away from them because they followed the anti-Russian arguments of Karl Marx.

            His doctrine required that they “deprive” Great Russians of their ancestors by renaming them Russians. “They banned Vladimir Dal’s “Great Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Langauge” and the word “Great Russians.” And they introduced instead the adjective “Russians.”

            This “beyond any doubt was a crime against historic Russia because the liquidation of the name ‘Great Russian’ automatically ‘zeroed out’ all the centuries of achievements of the ancestors of the Great Russians. Whether you like it or not, in the 1920s, a course was set toward the disappearance of the Great Russians as a people.”

            Many at the time opposed this, but their leaders were deported. Among those sent out of Russia was Aleksandr Ilin, “the outstanding Russian thinking whom Putin recalls today,” Bashlachev continues.  He saw the danger of giving all the other peoples of Russia a real name but reducing Russians to the status of an adjective.

            “Any real people has a noun as its name. A people exists as long as there is a desire to preserve its name,” the commentator says. Otherwise, it first becomes a mankurt who forgets its past and then ceases to exist and is absorbed by others who have not forgotten their names and their pasts.

            There are signs that this is happening to those who now call themselves Russians, Bashlachev says. He recently encountered on the Internet a post by one of these which shockingly declared that “everything would be easier for everyone on earth if the Russian nation were to cease to exist.”

            “That is what is happening with us, with Russians.” And it must be fought, Bashlachev argues. “Ahead of us is the 2020 census. In order to increase the capacity of Russian people to resist … people must remind census takers that you are descendants of the Great Russians who extended Russia from the White Sea to the Black Sea and from the Baltic to the Pacific.”

            According to the commentator, today’s Russians “have become accustomed since childhood to think they are Russians. Therefore, now, only a few thousand consider themselves Great Russians.” That number must rise to at least a million so that the Kremlin will “finally see the light and official return Great Russians the status of indigenous residents of Russia.”

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