Staunton, Mar. 12 – The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council has rejected a proposal by United Russia Duma deputy Sergey Burlakov to restore the nationality line in Russian passports so that ethnic Russians can have another occasion to make clear they are proud of that identity.
“I would like that the nationality line again to appear in Russian passports,” he said earlier this month, because “I am proud that I am a Russian, that my ancestors were Russian and that my children are Russians. Attacks by the West show how strong and unified a nation we are” (gazeta.ru/politics/news/2022/03/02/17369953.shtml).
Burlakov’s proposal would reverse a decision taken 30 years ago to drop the nationality line, something that was often used to discriminate against Jews and other minorities; and while it might be popular with some, especially non-Russians who would view it as reinforcing their identities and chances for survival, it is now vigorously opposed by the Kremlin.
The reason is simple: the Putin regime wants to do everything it can to reduce the importance of nationality inside the Russian Federation, to play up commonalities of language and public culture and to play down what keeps the non-Russians distinctive and separate, a drive that is highly offensive to them.
Most of the time the Putin regime refuses to make this position crystal clear lest it be criticized; but at a meeting of the Presidential Human Rights Council at which Burlakov’s proposal was discussed and rejected, Aleksandr Tochenov, the secretary of that body, was explicit in ways that will only further exacerbate ethnic relations in the Russian Federation.
Arguing that there is no need for a nationality line in passports, Tochenov said that “we are all [ethnic] Russians in spirt. Yes, we are varied: Yakuts, Buryats, Chuvash and the others; but we are all Russians. Everywhere we go, we are called Russians; and whatever our looks, we should be Russians and this is normal” (idelreal.org/a/31742841.html).
Getting rid of the nationality line was the “correct” thing to do, he continues, because we are truly one people, all Russians. “I have the blood of three nationalities in me: Roma, Italian, and my wife is half Ukrainians. Over the course of joint life in Russia, we have become intermixed.”
“Yes, each of us has his own nationality, his small motherland; but for the entire power, we are Russians,” using the ethnic term Russkiye rather than the non-ethnic Rossiyane to make his point. Tochenov’s words follow those of Patriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin in rejecting the idea that Ukrainians and Russians are separate peoples.
At the present time, several non-Russian republics have created inserts for Russian Federation passports in which people can declare their non-Russian nationality; and there is much discussion about the need for something along that line for the numerically small peoples of the North and Far East who are given benefits on the basis of their ethnic memberships.
All those things are now at risk given that this Kremlin body has now declared that all citizens of the Russian Federation are Russians in an ethnic sense, a position that is certain to offend many non-Russians there and make it even more difficult for Moscow to build ties to former Soviet republics that are working hard to defend and advance their own identities.