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 (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/266777/