Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Moscow Promoting Shift to Russian among Non-Russians to Change Their Self-Identifications, Shaydullin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Moscow’s promotion of Russian as the primary language of the entire population of the Russian Federation is intended to lead to the weakening of ethnic identities and the gradual shift among non-Russians from a non-Russian ethnic identity to a civic or even ethnic Russian one, Rafail Shaydullin says.

            In the second part of his survey of Russian, Soviet and Russian censuses – the first is discussed at – the senior scholar at the Kazan Institute of the Tatar Encyclopedia focuses on how census findings compel one to draw that conclusion (

            According to Moscow officials, there are approximately 100 indigenous peoples, who are defined as those who basic ethnic territory is within the borders of the country and more than 60 additional ones whose core territories are beyond those borders. In 1959, the two groups totaled 126; in 1970, 122; in 1979, 123; and in 1989, 128.

            Prior to the first post-Soviet census in 2002, Russian officials introduced a new category, those groups “included” within other. As a result, in 2002, they identified 776 ethnic self-designations which were divided up into 182 peoples; and in 2010, these figures increased to 1620, with 193 being the basic peoples. In 1989, there were only about 800 of these identities.

            This increase, Sahydullin says, was the result “not of demographic causes but occurred because of the politicization of ethno-cultural factors of ethnic self-identification,” and especially the dramatic rise – more than 362 times between 1989 and 2010, of those who did not provide their nationality in census documents.

            In 1989, in the last Soviet census, only 15,513 people did not list their nationality; but in 1989, the number who didn’t rose to 5,629,429. This increase complicated the situation of non-Russians and also added new tasks that the Russian authorities felt compelled to address, the Tatar scholar says.

            Earlier, these officials focused on unifying Soviet peoples and reducing as much as possible their ethnic self-designations. But now, they are seeking to promote an American style system in which people have identities that they may change quickly and in which the authorities are less interested in strengthening any ethnic identity than in reducing its importance for all.

            Russia national identity is also at risk, he suggests, because those pushing for this arrangement wants Russians to remain the core of civic Russian identity but not a self-standing group that might challenge either other groups or the political system as a whole. And Moscow has thus made the Russian language rather than ethnicity its preferred basis of identity.

            For non-Russians, this means that their opportunities for learning and using their national languages are reduced, with Russian replacing their historical national languages on the basis of the assumption that this shift will lead to a shift in identities or at least a weakening of non-Russian ethnic ones.

            Some Russian leaders want to go even further and absorb the non-Russians into a heavily Russianized civic Russian nation because they fear that any other arrangement will threaten the continued existence of the Russian Federation, the Tatar scholar says. And they appear to be gaining in influence.

            The latest Russian nationality policy strategy document declares that the goal now is “an all-Russian civic identity based on the preservation of ethnic Russian cultural dominance intrinsic to all the peoples who populate the Russian Federation.” The upcoming census will show just how far they have managed to transform the people of that country.  

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