Staunton, July 25 – Vitaly Mironov, an outspoken United Russia deputy, is calling for the restoration of the nationality line in Russian passports, although in contrast to Soviet times, such self-identification would be voluntary. His proposal took the form of an appeal to Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko.
The nationality line in passports, the deputy says, was removed because it was associated with “negative phenomena of the late USSR,” where nationality was used to discriminate against people in education and careers. Eliminating it was thus see as “a symbol of a democratic breakthrough” (rg.ru/2020/07/24/milonov-predlozhil-vernut-grafu-nacionalnost-v-pasport.html).
Now, however, many citizens of the Russian Federation would like to see it returned and thus the restoration of a nationality line “could become evidence of the openness of Russian society and the victory over nationalist prejudices.” He says nationality could be added in the “special notes” section and therefore would not require any fundamental change in the document.
The possibility of restoring the nationality line will divide citizens of the Russian Federation in possibly unexpected ways; and making it a voluntary rather than compulsory thing will have consequences likely to be far greater than what Milonov and others pushing for this idea imagine.
Since the nationality line was dropped, members of three groups have pushed for its restoration: ethnic Russians who see it as a way of reinforcing their dominance, titular nationalities in the non-Russian republics who view it as a means of defending their status, and especially members of numerically small nationalities in the North and Far East.
The latter have been especially active because under Russian law, they have been given certain benefits but cannot always get them at least in part because of issues as to who is a member of these nations and who is not and what rights outsiders have when they move into the North.
But in each case, there are opponents: for Russia as a whole, Russians who do not want to see their declining numbers registered in this way, especially if Cossacks, regional groups and sub-ethnoses can identify as they please; for non-Russian republics, some among the titular nationality who fear their declining share of the population will be used to justify disbanding these entities, and numerically small peoples who have similar fears.
The fears of the Russians are likely to be the most influential in this debate and probably mean that Milonov’s proposal will go nowhere. (On that, see this author’s “Regionalism is the Nationalism of the Next Russian Revolution” (in Russian at region.expert/regionalism-next-nationalism/ as well as windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/02/nationality-line-and-official.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/krasnodar-court-recognizes-mans-right.html).
Milonov’s suggestion that the nationality line should be voluntary raises new possibilities and any debate more complicated. That not only means many will choose not to identify in ethnic terms at all, undermining both Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world” and his and others’ desires to form a new non-ethnic Russian identity.
And at the same time, such an arrangement has the potential to harm all three groups by opening the way for pressure on people to identify or not for political reasons lest the numbers who do be used as an indicator of the continuing strength of nationalities, old and new, in Putin’s Russia.