Monday, December 19, 2016

Moscow Scrambles to Deal with Opposition to Putin-Backed Legislation ‘On the Russian Nation’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 19 – A meeting of the working group in the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations charged with coming up with a common draft instead highlighted both the widespread opposition to the legislation and the lengths to which the bill’s backers feel they may have to go to put it across.

            Reporting on yesterday’s meeting today, Natalya Gorodetskaya says that the meeting not only didn’t reach an agreement on the content of the legislation but even on its name.  Valery Tishkov, who heads the working group, suggested dropping the word “Russian” from the title of the draft law entirely (

            That might satisfy some who oppose the legislation because of what they see as an oxymoronic combination in the title of a political and thus non-ethnic term – rossisskaya – with the ethnically loaded term – natsiya -- a link that both Russians and non-Russians feel threatened by.

            Magomedsalam Magomedov, the former head of Daghestan who oversees ethnic issues for the Presidential Administration, said that Moscow could not fail to take note of “the various, at times extreme positions” about the law that people in the regions and republics have expressed; and he called analyzing “foreign experience” rather than racing after any quick fixes.

            After all, he said, the drafters have until August 1st of next year to come up with a satisfactory version, an indication although he did not say so that the Kremlin likely will try to drag out this process so that it can quiet some of the opposition to the measure that has been expressed so far.

            Magomedov said that the legislation must “satisfy all, no one must be offended and no one must receive excessive preferences,” an indication that the law may not define  very much on its own and thus may serve as Tishkov suggested only as “a federal framework law” which needed refer to Russians in either the political or ethnic sense in its title.

            Some participants in the meeting said, Gorodetskaya reported, that the law must including information on “the symbols, the meanings of civic and political nation, ethno-cultural development of peoples, the principles of inter-ethnic accord, solidarity, and the role of civic and state institutions in the carrying out of nationality policy.”

            Vladimir Zorin, another former nationalities minister, argued that “the main thing is to strengthen unity in the country. The [political] Russian nation has almost taken shape, but if must be reproduced with each new generation.”  That requires not only a law but a broad program in support of its provisions.

            Maksim Shevchenko, the president of the Moscow Center for Strategic Research on Religion and Politics, told the meeting that Moscow must introduce special courses on the culture of the peoples of Russia into the schools But Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal  Agency for Nationality Affairs, demurred.

            He said that the education ministry wanted to know what courses would have to be cut to make room for any like that.

            But there was one thing that almost all the speakers agreed on: there needs to be a series of meetings in the republics and regions to speak with “the opponents of a single nation” because they are numerous, especially in the Volga region, Sakha, and the North Caucasus, Zorin continued.

            Magomedov who also called for such sessions asked that those working on the draft “take their time and concentrate on what unites us rather than on differences,” a concluding formulation that suggests there may be more of the latter than the Russian authorities have been prepared to acknowledge about something Putin says he wants.

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