Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Moscow has Exploited Hostility to Ethnic Minorities It Promoted within Russia to Demonize Ukrainians, Berezhkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 24 – With the partial exception of the 1990s, Moscow has historically exploited the hostility of local ethnic majorities to local ethnic minorities to keep Russian society divided but most recently has exploited such attitudes to demonize Ukrainians and launch a war of aggression against them, Dmitry Berezhkov says.

            The activist from Kamchatka who now lives as a political exile in Norway says that discrimination against national minorities has always been part of the Russian government’s strategy domestically but now it has become an instrument of state policy in the case of Ukraine (

            In the 1990s, the state had other things to think about and did not exercise its traditional role in managing ethnic hatreds. Then in the first decade of this century, he says, Moscow either promoted or at least looked the other way as members of ethnic majorities attacked ethnic minorities as outsiders.

            The Russian government’s only concern at that time was that this kind of nationalism did not lead to political movements that might challenge the Putin regime. To that end, it punished severely nationalist leaders of all kinds but generally did little to stem the rising tide of attacks by members of one group on those of another.

            This use of administered nationalism, discrimination and hatred is “a very dangerous phenomenon,” Berezhkov says, because it means the state can redirect these hatreds almost at will, as long as it provides a new target. That is why the campaigns against LGBT people are so dangerous for non-Russians and why the war in Ukraine has served Kremlin interests so well.

            According to the exiled activist, the situation in this regard in Russia is “unique” because “the state totally controls the national question and takes part in the administration of discrimination, directing nationalist convictions wherever that serves its purposes.”

            A move toward democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition for addressing this problem, Berezhkov says. Many who favor democracy really don’t understand the plight of minorities and thus the advocates of a beautiful Russia in the future sometimes act as imperialists rather than democrats. That must change.

            However, if Russia does become a democracy, there is at least a chance that its minorities will be able to defend their rights and thus change the situation over time. That has been what has happened elsewhere; and it could be the basis for positive change in Russia as well, Berezhkov concludes.

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