Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Russian Nationalists and Non-Russian Federalists Begin to Talk to Each Other at Vilnius Forum

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 6 – Among the problems the opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime faces is that many of those who want change want to achieve it by replacing a bad tsar with a good one but not changing the centralist nature of the Russian state (rus.postimees.ee/7401966/forum-svobodnoy-imperii).

            Another is the tendency of most of the Russian opposition to marginalize non-Russian movements and the tendency of the non-Russian movements to avoid entering into conversation with Russian nationalists, in many cases viewing them as the enemy that must be destroyed rather than an ally suffering from some of the same problems.

            The latest session of the Free Russia Forum represented a breakthrough as far as this second set of problems is concerned. At a panel on “National or Multi-National Russia – Self-Determination of Russians and Other Peoples of the Russian Federation,” non-Russian nationalists and Russian ones began a dialogue (idelreal.org/a/31596318.html).

            Indeed, Prague-based Russian journalist Kharun Sidorov argued that this represented “the first attempt at constructive dialogue between representatives of the national movements of Russian republics and Russian nationalists,” two groups that typically are at daggers drawn. The interaction showed just how difficult such conversations are likely to be at least for now.

            Bashkir émigré activist Ruslan Gabbasov said that “our country is incurably ill” and that the way out of that crisis requires a new federal treaty one that recognizes the rights of all nations, including the Russian. Komi national leader Sergey Yelfimov agreed, saying that only such an accord can keep the country united.

            “Many ethnic Russians have begun to recognize themselves as part of the Komi Republic,” Yelfimov says. “We do not say that it is necessary to destroy everything down to the foundations; now there is a chance to revise the federal treaty. We need to unite. The Russian national movement must change its attitude toward small peoples as lesser brothers.”

            Daniil Konstantinov, head of the Russian European Movement, insisted that Russia must  be a nation state and that the country must address the Russian question, something that has been impossible since the October revolution. Even after 1991, he continued, that theme remained “undiscussed.” But it is central to the future of Russia.

            “The Russian state must be national,” he continued. “In any state there is an eehtnic nucleus. In Russia, that nucleus is the Russians. The Russian people is the majority and the key to the understanding of the nation. The nation and the state must be one.” Non-Russian republics need not be destroyed; but Russian regions must be elevated to the same status.

            Konstantinov said he is against allowing the non-Russian republics the right to secede, but Yelfimov responded that doing so is not on the agenda of most non-Russians. Gabbasov, however, said that the republics must have that right because they have been betrayed by the center so often.

            Finally, Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Region.Expert portal, called on Russian nationalists to think about the future in “post-imperial” terms and recognize that many Russians just like many English-speaking countries which emerged from the British Empire is better for them and for others than the maintenance of central control in which no one’s rights are observed.

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