Thursday, June 24, 2021

Moscow’s Repatriation Program Must be Restricted to Russians and Other Slavs, Zatulin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – Russian nationalist Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin recently introduced a bill that would almost certainly limit the country’s repatriation efforts to “the state-forming people [the ethnic Russians] and also Belarusians and Ukrainians” who are “linked to the state-forming people by a community of historic fate and culture.”

            That would make explicit what in fact has been Moscow’s practice, Prague-based commentator Kharun Sidorov says, eliminating from the government repatriation program not only members of nationalities with states of their own abroad but also other non-Slavic nationalities like the Circassians (

            And in so doing, it would reify the notion that Russia is a state for the Russians and that all others are in that sense second-class citizens, whose status depends not on the fact that they may have been residents of its current territory from time immemorial but rather on Russian sufferance, the commentator suggests, even if they have republics within Russia.

            Zatulin’s proposed measure would thus gut existing provisions in the three legal acts regulating repatriation, the laws on the state policy in this area and on citizenship and the presidential decree on the creation and operation of the program for the voluntary resettlement of compatriots living abroad.

            In the explanatory note accompanying the draft bill, the deputy says that he wants to ensure that anyone who returns speaks Russian well and that the government adopts a specific list of nationalities whose members have a right to return to Russia, something that does not now exist in law but obviously very much exists in state practice.

            Not long ago, Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine for passing a law specifying the indigenous peoples of Ukraine and not including ethnic Russians, Sidorov says. Consequently, he is not likely to be supportive of Zatulin’s proposal which would do the same legally for the Russian Federation, however much Putin’s actual policies in fact reflect such an understanding.

            To do so, the commentator says, would contradict Putin’s understanding that “ethnic Russians are not so much an ethnos like other ethnoses as a unique cement which unites these ethnoses around its culture and statehood.” Indeed, language and state identification are primary values for Putin in this area of life.

            This isn’t enough for Russian nationalists like Zatulin who want to make explicit what Putin only acts on. But the Kremlin leader will be constrained from supporting the nationalist’s proposal because it goes far beyond the repatriation principles of Israel and Poland, to which Russian officials have sometimes pointed in defense of their Russian-centric approach.

            Israel doesn’t require that Jews returning to Israel know Hebrew; it provides training in that language once they do. And Poland requires only some knowledge of Polish, not fluency as Zatulin’s measure would require in the case of even ethnic Russians let alone others who want to “return” to Russia.

            The deputy’s proposal “doesn’t take into consideration that beyond the borders of Russia today are ever more groups, even of ethnic Russians who know Russian poorly if at all.” They live where that language is not widely used, and so they are rapidly losing it. Making language knowledge more central to gaining permission to return thus works against Moscow.

            Zatulin’s proposal is thus not likely to be adopted; but it is important because it shows just how opposed to allowing any but ethnic Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians emigrate to Russia with official support many in Moscow now are and thus suggests that others especially Circassians from the Middle East are going to face ever greater difficulties in doing so.

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