Staunton, July 21 – Non-Russians complain about discrimination against them all the time and Vladimir Putin says he is taking steps to defend ethnic Russians in the republics, but in fact, Oleg Kildyushov says, the Kremlin leader is continuing the nationality policy of Lenin and Stalin, one in which Russians as a group are the most victimized.
The Higher School of Economics sociologist says Putin’s failure to agree to constitutional amendments declaring that the ethnic Russians are the state-forming people of the country and that non-Russian republics must be disbanded with all federal subjects becoming gubernia highlight this problem (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=38366).
As a result, Kildyushov says, “the ethnic majority is subject to systematic discrimination both within non-Russian ethnocracies and also in a number of enclaves in what are ethnic Russian oblasts.” And any complaints by Russians about this situation continue to be denounced as a threat to inter-ethnic concord.
According to him, the situation in the non-Russian republics has become worse since 1991 because leaders of these federal subjects have far more opportunities to engage in ethnic entrepreneurialism, using ethnic identity of the local majority as a basis for their personal power and thus inevitably harming ethnic Russians.
What this means,he says, is that “Putin’s Russian Federation with its set of non-Russian nation state formations really is a continuation of Soviet ideology and the practice of inequality of citizens on the basis of their origin.” Lenin openly discriminated against ethnic Russians; now, Putin’s system is doing the same thing, albeit less openly.
If Russia is to become a genuine democracy, Kildyushov says, this must change. All current non-Russian republics and predominantly Russian regions and krays must be replaced by gubernias with absolutely equal rights and in which people regardless of nationality enjoy equal rights.
Often, the Moscow scholar says, people speak about “the lack of success of the Soviet project” and blame it on the existence of the union republics. But “the entire Soviet ethno-political machinery was extremely effective” in maintaining and promoting non-Russian identities and republics – but with ethnic Russians paying in resources and discrimination.
Russian nationalists, Kildyushov sayd, often argue that the Russian Federation should be called the USSRF because it follows the same logic as the Soviet government, promoting non-Russians at the expense of the Russian nation. Whether one should go that far or not is uncertain, but the country does need to recognize how little has changed.
In this year and the next, ever more non-Russian republics will be celebrating their centenaries and using them to promote non-Russian interests at the expense of ethnic Russian ones. To counter that, the Higher School of Economics sociologist says, Moscow must send the following messages:
“The present national political design of the Russian Federation arose as a result of the systemic crisis of historical Russia at the start of the 20th century;
“In its current form, it officially strengthens the inequality of ethnic Russians and non-Russian citizens and regions;
“The growing democratization of the country will inevitablby raise the issue about the restoration of the constitutional principle of equality;
“The existing construction of non-Russian multi-nationalism represent a threat to the political unity and territorial integrity of that part of historic Russia which remains within the borders of the Russian Federation;
“It isn’t necessary to be a political seer to predict that attempts at secession at the time of a serious weakening of the central power occurs are practically inevitable;
“The alternative can be only the liquidation of the political-administrative market of non-Russian identities now supported by the powers that be; and
“Only a common identity of political Russians [russkiye] (independent of ethnic origin) could be a firm basis for the cultural unity and territorial integrity of democratic Russia.”
As horrific and outrageous as some of Kildyushov’s remarks are, they are important to take note of for three reasons: First, they reflect the feelings of many Russians who are liberal on other issue but whose liberalism ends not with Ukraine but rather whenever non-Russians are involved.
Second, they call attention to the kind of Russian backlash that has been growing in recent years, a backlash that has always been the most dangerous threat to the regime. (On that see, I.A. Kurganov’s classic work The Nations of the USSR and the Russian Question (in Russian, Munich 1961).
And third, and most immediately, they show that there is a real constituency in Moscow far broader than the usual Russian nationalist suspects for doing away with the non-Russian republics, a constituency that may very well take the kind of actions that will lead to what they most fear: the further disintegration of the Russian state.