Staunton, February 26 – Many believe that within the Russian Federation, the basic division is between the ethnic Russians as the state-forming nation and the non-Russians with their own autonomous republics, but in fact, with regard to escaping from the colonial situation in which both find themselves, the situation is far more complicated, Kharun Sidorov says.
On the one hand, the Prague-based regionalist commentator says, the ethnic Russians under the system established by the USSR and continued to this day find themselves simultaneously a colonizing force, suppressing the non-Russians, and a colonized one whose own aspirations are suppressed by the imperial state (idelreal.org/a/31119353.html).
And on the other hand, the non-Russians are divided between those who have republics which are in most cases increasingly dominated by their titular nations and represent proto-states and the many other non-Russians who do not have such institutions and thus are not in a position to advance their national agendas.
That means that any program for de-colonization of the Russian Federation must address the needs of the Russians and both kinds of non-Russians. For the first, the recipe is relatively easy. The predominantly Russian regions must become republics so that they can serve as representatives of their population rather than be instruments of the imperial rule of others.
But dealing with the non-Russian portion requires not only being open to the elevation of the status of the non-Russian autonomies and being open to their departure from the Russian state entirely to become independent countries as the union republics did in 1991 but also recognizing the need to find ways to defend non-Russians without republic status.
Many of them may be too small or too widely dispersed to allow for them to acquire republic status, but they can be recognized as corporate entities which deserve protection against assimilation by larger groups and against becoming spurs for radical nationalism on the part of these larger groups against them.
Other countries, with India and Great Britain among the most prominent, highlight these possibilities and dangers. India first divided into India and Pakistan (which later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh), and then as a Hindu-dominated state. In this latter form, it sparked more nationalism among the Hindus and less tolerance among them for others.
And in Great Britain, the position first of the Irish who left entirely and now of the Scots and Welsh who aspire in differing degrees to self-determination has forced London to be more supportive of their aspirations than it is of English nationalism and its growing intolerance for minorities within it.
Sidorov surveys these and other models of dealing with multi-ethnic states to suggest that Russians and non-Russians must adopt a different approach than the one they have now if they are to avoid entering into a new cycle in which the dominant Russians will become more nationalistic and the non-Russians of both types less willing to remain within a common state.
There are figures in the Russian past both can draw on, but unless both Russians and non-Russians recognize how fraught the situation already is, he suggests, the country will enter into a new and explosive period of disintegration, one in which the nationalism of the largest group will be ever more imperialist and that of the smaller ones ever more radical.