Staunton, December 29 – Many in Moscow are talking about creating a “civic” Russian nation, one based political rather than ethnic self-identification; but there is one place in the Russian world where such a nation already exists, the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Vadim Shtepa says (caucasreview.com/2016/12/grazhdanskaya-natsiya-krymchan/).
The Russian regionalist’s argument on this point is important not only for the future of Crimea and the right of self-determination but also for what Moscow is likely to face if it succeeds in imposing a “civic Russian” identity on everyone in the Russian Federation: the rise of alternative “civic” nations among those attached to particular regions.
And such regional “civic” identities, just like the ones that allowed ethnic Russians to vote for and support the independence of the non-Russian countries of which they are apart, could pose an even more serious threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation than any non-Russian nationalism.
(The author of these lines made this argument more generally yesterday in “Regionalism is the Nationalism of the Next Russian Revolution” on the AfterEmpire portal in Russian afterempire.info/2016/12/28/regionalism/). For those who would like to have a copy of the English original, please email me at email@example.com.)
Shtepa begins by suggesting that “a civic nation of Crimeans exists,” something he recalls from his own childhood and from the aspirations of the post-1917 Crimean Tatar leader Noman Celebijihan, who was later shot by the Bolsheviks.
In his own early childhood, the Russian regionalist says, he “remember that we (Russians and Ukrainians) in eastern Europe identified ourselves precisely as ‘Crimeans,’ and not as ‘Russians’ or ‘Ukrainians.’ This was, Shtepa continues, “similar to the situation in Switzerland.”
But more important, “the first president of independent Crimea, the poet Noman Celebijihan” declared that he “wanted to see Crimea as a poly-ethnic ‘Switzerland,’” one in which its ethnically varied populace would identify with and be loyal to a common Crimean state.
“What is the criterion of a civic nation?” Shtepa asks rhetorically. “Its ability to take political decisions. The Crimeans in 1991 voted in a referendum for the return to their oblast of its status as a republic, and in 1992, they adopted a republic constitution and chose their own president.”
“But then the Kyivan empire (and this is an empire if it suppresses the regions) did away with the Crimean constitution and eliminated the position of Crimean president.”
Such actions, he argues, infuriated the Crimeans “and led to the growth among them of pro-Russian attitudes. On the wave of these attitudes, the Muscovite empire in 2014 [illegally] annexed Crimea.” But “a healthy resolution for the future of Crimea will be found not in Moscow or in Kyiv. It will be taken by the Crimeans themselves.”
Obviously, Shtepa says, “the role of the Crimean Tatar population should grow, but again it must not grow into a unitary ethnocracy.” That won’t happen if the Crimeans follow the advice given by Celebijihan almost a century ago.
“On the Crimean peninsula grow various roses, lilies and tulips,” he declared. “And each of these flowers has its own particular color, its own irreplaceable fragrance. These are the colors of the peoples living in Crimea: the Tatars, the Russians, the Armenians, the Jews, the Germans and the others.”
“The goal of the Kurultay is, having assembled them together, to make of them a beautiful and elegant bouquet and thus to found on the beautiful island of Crimea a genuine and civilized Switzerland. The Kurultay thinks not only about the Crimean Tatars but about all the peoples who over the course of centuries have lived in fraternity with them.”
And in this state, its first president said, “the Crimean Tatars will play in this task not the role of leader but rather the role of initiator,” a development the Bolsheviks couldn’t tolerate and that Putinist Russia won’t want to either, yet another way in which the Kremlin’s push for a “civic Russian nation” may backfire on Moscow in unexpected ways.