Saturday, December 10, 2016

‘Politicization of Russian Ethnicity Will Lead to the Break-Up of Russia’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Non-Russians were the first to criticize the Putin-backed idea of a law that would define the residents of the Russian Federation as a non-ethnic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya), fearing that such legislation would lead to more discrimination against them and a further attack on the status of their communities and republics.

            Now, ethnic Russians are joining the chorus, denouncing this legislative proposal as both a continuation of Leninist nationality policy and the adoption of the American “melting pot” model and thus a direct threat to the nature of the ethnic Russian nation (russkaya natsiya) and ultimately a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

            Two such Russian attacks this week on the proposed law now being drafted and discussed in the Duma are especially important in that they lay out the reasons in detail for ethnic Russian fears about what such legislation will mean for the majority of the population of the country.

            The first came on Wednesday at a meeting of the Russian nationalist Russian Assembly that was held at the building of the Union of Writers of Russia. Three presentations were especially significant about the legislation and the consequences of its possible adoption (

            Sergey Baranov, a sociologist who wrote the 2009 volume, “The Russian Nation. A Contemporary Portrait,” pointed out that the majority of reviews of the law were “negative.” “The national minorities are afraid of a diminution of their rights,” and Russophiles don’t like its attack on their ethnicity. As a result, he said, it appears the powers are “backing down.”

            The reason is simple: “until 1991, there was no such term in scholarship as ‘the non-ethnic Russian nation.’”  And consequently, its appearance naturally has led to questions about “what will the future bring for the ethnic Russian nation and the ethnic Russian people.” Thus, “the adoption of a law about a non-ethnic Russian nation is extremely undesirable.”

            According to Baranov, the powers that be are “seeking ethnic homogeneity of the peoples of Russia, despite the fact that 90 percent of the population of the country are ethnic Russians,” but because they are using “the American experience of ‘a melting pot,’ replacing the indigenous population with migrants and mixing the ethnic Russian people with other peoples.”

            At the same time, he dismissed as sick fantasies the notion that “Russia could fall apart.” In his view, a country which consists of 90 percent of the core nationality simply won’t do so.

            In Baranov’s view, the new law does a number of unfortunate things: It undercuts the possibility of reuniting the three Slavic peoples by acting as if it can create some new entity in Russia itself and it undercuts the possibility that “other peoples living in Russia” can be “partners of the Russian people.”

            A second speaker, Tatyana Bespalova of the Likhachev Russian Research Institute on Cultural and Natural Heritage, also came out in opposition to the draft legislation. She suggested that there was no need for such a law and that “the politicization of Russian ethnicity” could backfire, offending others and discrediting Russia by failing to deliver what the law promises.

            Since 2000, she continued “a civic identity in Russia has been taking shape, but up to now there is no unity or community of non-ethnic Russians.”  In Bespalova’s view, three identities must be combined -- civilizational, civic and ethno-cultural – and “the state ideology” must be “the idea of the Russian World and Russian Civilization. She also called for restoring the nationality line in passports.

            But a third speaker, Anatoly Stepanov, the chief editor of the Russkaya narodnya liniya portal, noted in conclusion that “the politicization of the ruling people always has led to the disintegration of the empire,” something that he said Joseph Stalin understood “very well” and was guided by.

            “From the history of the fatherland,” he continued, “the outburst of ethnic Russian nationalist took place not long before the revolution. It is thus necessary to search for means of resolving the status of the ethnic Russian people in the Russian state.” A law on the Russian nation won’t do that.

                On the Svobodnaya pressa portal yesterday, Moscow commentator Viktor Militaryev also addressed these issues but focused more closely on what he said were the views standing behind the idea of a law among the powers that be and also among the expert community (

            He argued that the two groups were supporting a law on the Russian nation for very different reasons and that each of these has serious shortcomings.  The powers that be are convinced that “without positive discrimination in favor of the national minorities, stability in the country may break down.”

            In contrast, the theoreticians from the expert community behind the law support the idea for “internationalist” reasons. They believe, Militaryev says, that “it is necessary to be more concerned about the national minorities than about the people which forms the majority of the population.”

            The position of the powers that be, he argues, is internally inconsistent because it has led the regime to take steps that threaten to create the very problem it assumes exists – and the newly proposed law is no exception.  But that of the experts behind the law is “much more dangerous” because it suggests that the Russians must always be engaged in expiating for crimes of the past.

            Both groups are thus engaged in actions that are having “more negative than positive” consequences. First of all, because the authorities and the experts in a shameful way conceal what they are doing, Russians believe that “the authorities are carrying out a policy of conscious discrimination of ethnic Russians in favor of the national minoriites.”

            “This ‘impression’ in no way contributes to inter-ethnic peace in Russia.”

            Second, such a measure as the new draft law makes it more difficult for the country to move in the direction it should be going in: ending “positive discrimination in favor of national minorities” where it exists and ensuring “the complete equality of all citizens of the Russian Federation independent of their ethnic membership.”

            Third, the new law also makes it more difficult for people to recognize that “alongside the recognition of the rights of ethnic minorities of Russia to develop their national cultures,” the Russian state should be “constructed on the basis of ‘mono-culturalism’ of ethnic Russian culture.”

            And fourth, Militaryev said, in place of the law, Russians need to stop using the offensive “bureaucratic phraseology” behind it.  “Let us once and for all,” he said, “learn by heart: we are not ‘the multi-national people of Russia,’ but simply ‘the people of Russia,’ and not ‘a non-ethnic Russian nation,’ but ‘ethnic Russians and other peoples of Russia.’”

Macro-Regional Identities Not Being Formed in Russia, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

                Staunton, December 10 – Efforts, so far unsuccessful. to promote the idea of the Arctic as “a macro-region” are to a certain extent “a metaphor for more univeresal processes, including the unending search for a Russian ‘national idea,’” something that “gives rise to more questions than answers,” Udmurt sociologist Ludmila Saburova says.

            In a review of a new book (“The Russian Arctic in Search of an Integral Identity” in Russian (Moscow, 1016) that appears in the latest issue of “Neprikosnovenny zapas,” she concludes that “a macro-regional identity is hardly being formed” there or elsewhere (

            “For this,” she says, there are neither common historical and cultural roots, nor internal resources and demand.” Moreover, Saburova suggests, such “’icing on the cake’ doesn’t make the cake more tasty and attractive; it is capable only for a second to attract the attention” of those to whom it is being served.

            According to the Udmurt scholar, “it is difficult to overrate the importance of the general problem of the construction of a regional identity.” Indeed, “one can say with certainty” that Russia’s succees or failure “as a multi-national, polyconfessional, and extremely large territory” will depend upon precisely that.

            Saburova points out that among the obstacles to the formation of a common Russian Arctic identity are historical and geographic differnces in the region, varieties of ethnic and religious practice, the artificial nature of urbanization in the region, power relations between regions and republics and Moscow, and Moscow’s changing definition of the region.

            There are two ways such an identity might emerge, spontaneously from below or by direction from above.  If these work together, there is a good chance that a regional identity will develop; but if they are in conflict as now, there is every reason to believe that a macro-regional identity will not emerge.

            “From a historical point of view,” she says, the underlying contradiction which defines the paths of the establishment of a contemporary identity of ht Russian Arctic … was set in motion by the processes of ‘the  collapse’ of Soviet identiy under conditions of contant transformation of the space of Russian statehood accompanied by an intensification of ‘great power’ ideology and rhetoric.”

            Further, “the intensifying trend of ideological unification of Russian lands, operating on the rhetoric of ‘historical values’ but ignoring breaks in that history and the presence of ideologically mutually exclusive periods … inevitably … [gives rise to] interethnic and interconfessional tension” and “eclectic constructions” that combine what can’t be.

            These things are reflected, Saburova says, in Moscow’s constant redrawing of the borders within which it would like to promote macro-regional identities. Thus, the North Caucasus, the Far East, and the Russian North all have seen their borders change more or less constantly over the last 15 years, violating what traditional understandings there are in the population.
            That in turn has only heightened attention to “the various historical circumstance under which the regions were united to the Russian Empire and then included in the USSR, which to this day largely defines the character of the interrelationships of regions with the center and the level of cultural and economic integration with other regions of Russia.”

            Variations in economics and demography, as a result of which some titular nationalities are growing and others slowing and in which outsiders are coming in in increasing numbers, also have their effect, she says.  That has led to “a growth in national self-consciousness in certain regions and international support for the articulation of the interests of indigenous peoples.”

                Native language media could be “an effective instrument” for promoting identities but its outlets do not have either the state support or independent revenue to have much of an effect at present.  Thus, they won’t promote a macro-regional identity, and neither will religious organizations.

            What is more likely, Saburova continues, is that geopolitics and natural resources will play the key role; but so far, they are not having the expected effect given, among other things, the “unorganized” character of the appearance of urban centers supporting both Moscow goals and the marginal nature of Russia’s northern cities.

            As a result, she says, “the Russian Arctic today does not in practive have that very internal identity which arises via a natural historical path and which is characterized by a unity of values and emotional characteristics of the society living there. That means that if it is to be created, it must be done so artificially and from above.

            If that does not happen – and it is not happening now, Saburova stresses – “the Russian Arctic will remain a borderless region at the edge of an enormous state including a multitude of competing regions … an undeveloped system of communications, unattractive settlements and ‘small peoples’ surviving in isolation one from the other” and from Moscow.

One in Five Villages in Many Parts of Russia is a Ghost Town, New Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – The Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms has released a report showing that Russia now is “a country of dying villages,” one in which in predominantly ethnic Russian areas one in five villages have no residents and in which by 2023 there will be no hospitals and by 2034 no schools.

            “Only in the period between the 2002 and 2010 census,” the report says, “the number of villages without any people grew by more than 6,000,” and declines in the remaining villages were so great that “in more than half of all rural population points now live from one to 100 people.”

            Drawing on official statistics, sociological studies and its own research, the Center in its 39-page report paints a depressing picture of rural Russia, one that has long been in decline but whose future appears likely to be even bleaker than it has been in the recent past (Россия-страна-умирающих-деревень.pdf).

            Among the most obvious measures of this decline and one of the drivers pointing to the demise of the Russian village in the future is the collapse of infrastructure. Since 2000 alone, the number of schools in rural Russia has fallen from 45,100 in 2000 to 25,900 in 2014, the number of hospitals from 4300 to 1060 and the number of clinics from 8400 to 3060.

            That suggests that there will not be any rural hospitals by 2023 or any rural schools and polyclinics by the early 2030s. And their closings both reflect and will seriously accelerate the flight of population from the rural parts of the country to the cities, a flight already being driven by economic and social problems in the villages.

            “The main causes” for the decline in the rural population lie in the lower standard of living and higher unemployment and crime there.  Moreover, the report notes, prices in villages are higher than in cities because of distribution and transportation difficulties even though incomes are much lower.

            Communal services in Russian villages are much worse than in the cities. “Only 57 percent of rural housing has a connection to water,” and “only 33 percent” have hot water at any time of the year.  Moreover, only 54.7 percent have potable drinking water, and only five percent have indoor plumbing, a figure that has remained unchanged since 1995.

            Not surprisingly, those who can leave for the cities are doing so; but that trend has been accelerated by Russian government policies in recent years, the Center concludes; and all proposed means of retaining population in the rural areas has proved to be empty. To be successful, the country would have to spend vast sums it currently doesn’t have.

            Urbanization and the hollowing out of rural areas is a worldwide one, but in few developed countries is the gap between the rural world and the urban one as great as it is in Russia and in few of them has the government done as little to try to ensure that rural residents are left so far behind.