Staunton, August 26 – Fifty-four percent of Russians favor the restoration of the nationality line in internal passports, 17 percent on a compulsory basis and 37 percent on a voluntary one, according to a new Superjob poll; and only 27 percent are opposed (abnews.ru/2021/08/07/bolshinstvo-rossiyan-protiv-obyazatelnogo-ukazaniya-naczionalnosti-v-pasporte/).
The Russian media have sought to play this up as meaning that Russians are against such a step because only 17 percent want it to be required, writer and filmmaker Sergey Baymukhametov says; but the figures show that the time is coming when this step will have to be taken to maintain ethnic diversity in Russia (newizv.ru/news/society/26-08-2021/vernite-pyatyy-punkt-kak-nam-sohranit-etnicheskoe-raznoobrazie-strany).
Two groups of Russian Federation citizens support the return of the nationality line and two oppose it. The supporters include those ethnic Russians who believe the nationality line will slow the assimilation of non-Russians to the ethnic Russian nation and members of numerically small nations who see it as a defense against such assimilation.
The opponents include those who remember the way the nationality line was used in Soviet times to discriminate against Jews and others and those who want to promote a supra-ethnic and indeed non-ethnic Russian civil identity and thus do not want the Russian government to support at the state level ethnic ones.
In reporting this groundswell of support for the return of the nationality line, Baymukhametov says that in Russia, “nationality” has always been a tricky term because it is “foreign.” In the West, nationality typically means citizenship, but in Russia, it generally means ethnicity.
The term “ethnos” which some Russian scholars and officials have tried to promote has never caught on with the majority of the population, he continues. Nor has the Soviet distinction between nation as a state community and nationality as an ethnic community disappeared entirely from Russian thinking.
This confusion, he says, has been highlighted every five to seven years when some individual or group seeks to restore the “nationality” line in the passport. This idea is pushed most often by members of numerically small groups who fear they will lose preferences or their identity and by the KPRF fraction in the Duma.
Ildar Gilmutdinov, chairman of the Duma’s nationality affairs committee, says that numerically small peoples have a particular interest in restoring the nationality line. If they are numerically small peoples recognized as such by Moscow, they get preferences, but these are “not personal but territorially ethnic.”
That is, someone who is a member of one of these nations but who lives outside of their home area doesn’t get the preferences. For them – and their numbers are increasing relative to those living in traditional homelands – the nationality line is all about maintaining identity and ethnic ties.
In Russia today, there are 193 different nationalities. Since 1991, five of these have seen their languages disappear, and 18 more are at risk of having that happen to them in the near future. When the languages disappear so too do identities, Baymukhametov strongly suggests. That is part of a worldwide trend of homogenization.
He says that talk about restoring the nationality line in the passports is one indication that people are troubled by that but adds that what they should be doing is not talking about that “but rather about the preservation of ehnoses in Russia, their languages, history and culture.” The nationality line alone in the absence of such an effort will mean little.