Sunday, January 16, 2022

For Both Kremlin and the Population, Russian Nationalism and Non-Russian Nationalisms Deeply Intertwined, Romanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 27 – In the 1990s, ethnic clashes frightened the Kremlin not only because non-Russian activism threatened the territorial integrity of the country but also because it triggered a growth in Russian nationalism which threatened to create “a competitor” to the powers that be, Mikhail Romanov says.

            Now, the director of the Moscow Laboratory for the Study of Public Opinion, that same relationship between the two nationalisms and the powers that be has re-emerged despite all that the Kremlin has done and despite all the denials it and others have issued in the meantime (

            Over the last 20 years, the Russian nationalist movement has been effectively liquidated, with leaders imprisoned, driven out of politics, or dead and with its publications suppressed. As a result, the interaction of Russian nationalism and the nationalisms of non-Russians has seldom been the subject of media discussion, Romanov says.

            But recent events have changed that. The attack of three people from Daghestan against a Russian girl forced the issue again into the open. “Not one media outlet named the nationality of the criminals, but all indicated the region where they were from, Daghestan. And that was sufficient to spark a stormy reaction in Daghestani society.”

            The media in Makhachkala reflecting this anger featured denunciations of Russians as “’nationalists and Nazis’ who ‘organized all of this because they do not like Caucasians.” Republic officials urged calm, but to no avail, likely because many of them felt exactly the same way and were quietly upset that Moscow had violated the unwritten rules governing ethnicity.

            Had there been a similar attack in Moscow by people from Karelia, Romanov continues, the Russian media would have focused on those who carried it out if they had come from Karelia rather than Daghestan. But in that case, the Karelians would have been unlikely to respond in the same way.

            “In the mentality of the Daghestanis, ethnicity is a key factor in all forms of social life. It has always been so – in the USSR, in the first post-Soviet years, and now under Putin in the latter years of his rule.” That is because the system in Daghestan is based on the balance of ethnic groups and no violation of that balance will pass unnoticed.

            The republic’s state council has 14 members representing the 14 most important nationalities in Daghestan, and the republic leadership is shared among the largest nationalities with officials often moving from one position to another to keep the relative power of them unchanged.

             This attention to nationality had what may seem to many an unexpected result. Despite the dominance of United Russia deputies in the republic parliament, the body voted down a measure on the Cossacks that Moscow very much wanted and had pushed through elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In fine, “nationality proved more powerful than party membership.”

            The deputies voted as they did to protest the Moscow media coverage about the attack of three Daghestanis on a Russian girl; and while the center will likely force through the measure in the future, this move was a reminder that nationality matters and that the behavior of Russians and non-Russians is tightly interrelated.

            At the official level, ethnicity is something few feel comfortable talking about and that the law “almost always” prohibits anyone from taking into consideration. But there are still many in Russia who in their worldview are “ethno-centric,” and thus “attempts to resolve inter-ethnic problems without taking nationality into account are condemned in advance to fail.”

            Blathering on about how a criminal has “no nationality” and prohibiting any discussion of the role of ethnicity in conflicts is certain to prove just as “fruitful” as demands on people not to think as they in fact do, Romanov says.

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