Monday, June 3, 2024

Russian Government Opposes Latest Duma Calls for Restoring Nationality Line to Passports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – The Russian government has formally rejected calls by some Duma deputies to restore the nationality line in passports, something notorious in Soviet times when it helped create official nationalities and was used against Jews and other minorities but desired now by some Russian nationalists and officials and by some members of minority nations.

            The government said Russian citizenship “is uniform and equal regardless of how acquired and legislation about it cannot contain provisions limiting the rights of persons on the basis of social, racial, national, linguistic or religious affiliations” (

            Moreover, the official statement continued, Russian passports already contain “an exhaustive list of information” including first and last names, patronymic, gender, as well as date and place of birth. From the government’s point of view, “nationality is not classified as a significant category of information identifying a citizen” and thus is not included.

            The 1993 Russian Constitution did away with the nationality line in passports, a line often referred to as “the fifth paragraph” and one that was used to fix the ethnic nationality of its bearer and often used by the authorities to discriminate against citizens from minority groups the authorities did not trust or approve of.

            At the time, both Russians and the West welcomed the dropping of the nationality line, believing that it would open the way to equal treatment of all those having citizenship in the Russian Federation. But with each passing year, ever more people have been troubled by the unexpected consequences of this decision.

            By 2020, a majority of Russian citizens favored the restoration of the nationality line even though the Russian government, human rights groups, and the West continued to oppose such a step fearing that it would lead to greater discrimination by officials and businesses (

            What is perhaps most important here is that supporters of restoring the nationality line come not only from non-Russians who believe that such a recognition will help them survive but from Russian nationalists who fear that ever more ethnic Russians are not defining themselves as such (,,, and

            And even though the Kremlin is likely to block any such change for the foreseeable future, there are at least three reasons to think that the numbers favoring the restoration of the census will grow and will include not only non-Russians and Russian nationalists but also some rights activists and even officials (e.g., and

            First, many residents of Russia are certain to be outraged by the current response of the Russian government that nationality is not “a significant category.” That view may reflect Putin’s desire to make everyone a Russian (,  but it isn’t a position likely to win friends in many parts of the Russian political spectrum.

            Second, in the view of many, Putin has maintained official nationality even while denying he is doing so and thus restoring a nationality line to the passport would restrict arbitrariness by officials ( and

            And third, and this is especially important because it is a position that many officials now take, restoration of a nationality line would make it far more difficult for people who aren’t members of minorities in the Russian north to claim benefits that the government provides to the latter (

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