Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Continues to Implement Soviet Nationality Policy, Svyatenkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Despite some new terminology and the expression of good intentions, Moscow is continuing to implement Soviet nationality policy despite the failures of that policy as  revealed by the collapse of the USSR in 1991, according to Russian nationalist commentator Pavel Svyatenkov.

            In an essay posted on the “Russkoye oboreniye” portal yesterday, Svyatenkov says that the “new” Russian nationality policy is just as deeply flawed as the “old” Soviet one and for many of the same theoretical, practical and political reasons and thus is just as likely to tear the country apart (rus-obr.ru/ru-web/25569).

            Careful examination of the new program for implementing the Strategy of the State Nationality Policy through 2015 shows, the commentator says, that “the authorities have once again fallen into the trap of multi-nationality,” the same trap that their Soviet predecessors found themselves in.

            The “chief shortcoming” of the new document, he writes, is that the authors call for the construction of ‘a multi-national [non-ethnic] Russian nation.’”  But just what this is, “no one has the ability to explain,” just as no one could fully explain just what “the Soviet people” the communists wanted to create in fact was either.

            That Soviet effort collapsed in 1991, Svyatenkov says, and it did so for reasons that should have surprised no one. While Moscow was talking about “a Soviet people” on the one hand, on the other, “the Soviet model of national construction was based on a tight linkage of ethnos and territory.”  

In Soviet times, ethnicity was tightly controlled, he continues, with a nationality line in the passport that could be filled in only according to particular rules. That created particular problems for Jews, but it affected other people as well because it “led to a horrific growth in the importance of ethnic membership” for the population.

Moreover, Svyatenkov says, “there existed a hierarchy of peoples which obtained privileges depending on the place of their titular nation.” In union republics “and also in the autonomous republics on the territory of the RSFSR,” it was “fashionable” to develop “a national intelligentsia” and even “a national philosophy,” as the then united but now divided Chechens and Ingush did.

“Naturally, such a nationality policy did not create a single nation but rather destroyed it,” the commentator says, because “it is impossible to create a nation if there exists a hierarchy of peoples each of which has its own special package of rights its own national territory and its own privileges,” as is the case in Russia today.

The Russian Federation now has 16 republics “which are the nation states of the corresponding peoples.” Under the constitution, they are called upon to defend the culture of their nation within their borders and “also to support its ethnic representatives beyond the borders of the republic” as well.

Thus, Soviet nationality policy continues even under new names, Svyatenkov says.  “The bureaucracy does not understand even the ABCs of a correct approach to the nationality question. The bureaucrats suppose that one must produce national unity the way one produces a tractor on an assembly line.”

Under the new policy, the Russian state continues to approach all the peoples of the country, from the largest to the smallest, “ethnographically” and in the same way that scholars would approach “some kind of primitive tribes.”  That leads to the idea that the groups can come together with folk dancing.

There is nothing wrong with folk dancing, Svyatenkov hastens to add, but for adults, such “romantic” activities do nothing to address the underlying problems of the country or promote its unity. And the nationality problems of Russia will continue until decisions are taken on five key issues.

First, Svyatenkov says, the country must overcome “the undefined status of ethnic Russians in Russia.”  Ethnic Russians don’t have their own country or even a territory on it that is specifically theirs.

Second, the country needs to figure out what to do about “the presence on the territory of Russia of nation states,” political units that are charged with protecting their titular nationalities and thus engage in a policy of “ ethnic protectionism” that violates the rights of ethnic Russians and other nationalities as well.

Third, a serious nationality policy needs to address “the contradiction between the stateless status of the ethnic Russians and the privileges of the national republics,” a contradiction that is summed up in the term “asymmetric federalism.” Fourth, Russia needs to address the issues presented by migration and immigration.

And fifth, the country needs to decide how to overcome the current situation in which representatives of the peoples of the North Caucasus feel they can do anything they want and nonetheless will be protected by their own republic leaders.

Folkdances are simply not enough to deal with these problems, Svyatenkov says. And he adds that any effort to create a non-ethnic Russian nation will be stillborn until precisely those problems are addressed. Until they are, officials can do one of two things: “stick their heads in the sand, or take part in folk dances.”  The current regime has chosen the latter.

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