Staunton, March 30 – Speaking to the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, Vladimir Putin said “civic and ethnic identities often are viewed as competitors” but shouldn’t be, especially in the case of Russia, lest tensions between them lead to the kind of problems other countries have (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/65252).
At the same time, the Kremlin leader indicated which one has primacy as far as he is concerned. “Nothing is more important for our country or for any country of the world than the strengthening of civic identity,” lest focus on smaller ethnic identities divide people and lead to conflicts of one kind or another.
“For enormous, multi-national Russia, the solidarity of people and their feeling of attachment to the fate of the Fatherland and responsibility for its present and future has a principled, one can say decisive importance,” Putin continued. Viewing the civic and ethnic as being at odds undermines that possibility and is “absolutely unacceptable.”
“An individual can belong to this or that ethnic group, but all of us have one country, Great Russia.” And the experience of other countries shows that while conflicts have their roots in economics and politics, ethnic and religious differences often contribute to their exacerbation if they are mishandled.
“We in Russia must not allow and will not allow aggressive and disrespectful attitudes toward representatives of any nationality” or allow the kind of ethnic and religious conflicts seen elsewhere to cross our borders, Putin continued.
“Today,” he said, “more than 80 percent of the citizens of Russia positively assess the state of inter-ethnic relations within the country. But these questions require constant, I would even say, daily work” to ensure that things do not go in the wrong direction.
Any division of people into “us” and “them” is “not the best example for the rising generation. ‘Civic self-consciousness, like patriotism, is not given by birth; it is formed” by life itself; and that formation is something which must be carefully tended lest it become distorted and dangerous.
Putin’s suggestion that civic and ethnic identities must not be viewed as in contradiction is likely to provide support to two groups of analysts, politicians and activists. One group will want to reduce the importance of all ethnic identities except the Russian in pushing for a common civic identity, one in which Russian would remain central.
But another group will certainly argue against the promotion of a common civic identity beyond very restricted limits lest it compromise the ability of non-Russians and even some ethnic Russians to maintain and develop their own distinctive national identities. In short, Putin hasn’t offered a solution to the ongoing debate but simply raised the stakes concerning its outcome.