Friday, July 28, 2023

When Non-Russians Speak Their Languages, They Back Ukraine; but When They Speak Russian, They Support Putin’s War, Komi Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Komi activist Lana Pylayeva says that when she speaks Russian with her father, he supports Russia in its war with Ukraine; but when they speak their common native language, Komi, he backs Ukraine in large measure because when they speak in Komi, they are focused on threats to their nation and the loss of their language and identity.

            Her words are cited by Aleksandr Garmazhapova, an émigré Buryat activist, in the course of an extensive interview on the possibilities and importance of the federalization of Russia (

            The Buryat’s decision to cite Pylayeva’s words suggests that she views the Komi activist’s experience to be more general and that in turn helps to explain why Vladimir Putin is so committed to the destruction of non-Russian languages not only to promote the formation of his “Russian world” but to eliminate opposition to policies carried out in its name.

            Garmzhapova offers a series of important observations about Russia and federalization. Among the most significant are the following:

·       Federalism requires strong regions as well as a strong central government with the two sides existing in more or less permanent negotiation. Putin, who never has taken part in serious talks, wants to preclude them with the regions by keeping them all as weak as possible because he knows that “strong regions always want more autonomy but weak ones don’t.”

·       “Possibly if 80 percent of Russia’s population belonged to the titular nation and 20 percent to a single national minority, there would be a not bad chance to create at asymmetric federation as in Canada. Butin Russia, there is a multitude of nations in this 20 percent.”

·       To promote federalization, some want to create macro-regional party lists so that Russia’s political parties will pay more attention to regions and their neighbors.

·       It would be useful to enshrine in the constitution the term “territories of compact residence of ethnic minorities.” These would be where people of one or another ethnicity actually live rather than where Stalin drew the lines around them.

·       Russia should follow the example of the Baltic countries and pursue democracy first and then federalization rather than the other way around. The reason is that only democratically elected leaders have the authority to make decisions people will respect.

·       Political theory clearly shows that political stability is almost impossible in a young democracy. Every election changes the government. Samuel Huntington made an interesting generalization: the first elections are won by the revolutionaries, the second by their predecessors (nostalgia is at work here), and in the third, the “former” are defeated, because they definitely cannot return to the old life for which people are nostalgic. These third elections are again won by the revolutionaries, who have already transformed into a full-fledged party. However, they also do not succeed. Therefore, in the fourth election, people say: “We are tired of both the revolutionaries and the former. Give me something new."

·       “Federalization is not a panacea but it is a path to the future and not to the past.”

·       Russia is surrounded by countries from which it must learn: Mongolia in the East and Ukraine and the Baltic countries in the West.

·       One of Russia’s biggest problems is the near total ignorance of people in one region about other regions. Many don’t even know which ones are part of the Russian Federation and which are not.


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