Each Region in Russian Federation has Its Own ‘Nationality Policy,’ Expert Says


Even as Moscow attempts to come up with a nationality policy for the Russian Federation, each of the country’s federal subjects has pursued its own specific policy in this area, something that means regardless of what the center does, Russia already is a country with a multitude of official nationality “policies,” according to a leading Moscow expert.

In an essay on the “Russky zhurnal” portal, Rostislav Turovsky, a political scientist at Moscow State University who specializes in regional issues, notes that “in the majority of Russian regions, a carefully thought out and well-based nationality policy simply does not exist” (www.russ.ru/pole/Tehnologiya-nacional-noj-politiki).

But in those places where it does exist — predominantly ethnic Russian or not — the actual policy varies widely depending “on the personality of the governor” and on whether he considers it necessary to implement any policy in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations” and whether he is a “Russian patriot” or a “pragmatist” for whom “national questions are secondary.

In recent years, “an ever greater number of regional leaders have become pragmatists,” Turovsky says, a sharp contrast from the 1990s where most leaders felt obliged to have a position and carry out a policy on the Russian nation, friendship of the peoples, and the handling of immigrants.

During the first decade of this century, the Moscow political scientist says, “ideological interest [among the governors] in these questions fell sharply.” Indeed, and despite the expectations of some, it also fell “even in republics” because many of the new leaders appointed by Moscow were also “pragmatists.”

For them, “the nationality question in comparison with issues of economic development has receded to a secondary position.” And as a result, the order of the day which now is formulated in the highest organs of power is a challenge for the basic part of the regional elites which does not know what to do with such challenges both ideologically and technologically.”

In the non-Russian republics, he continues, “elites are much more sensitive to questions of nationality policy but at the same time, they understand them very subjectively.” In republics with one titular nationality, “nationality policy is about the securing of the dominating positions of this ethnos in power.”

In republics with a large number of ethnic Russians, “the ethnic elites intentionally work in order to strengthen the position of the titular ethnos in power and to support this ideologically through corresponding propaganda of ethnic history.” And in republics more multi-ethnic, “nationality policy is understood as the distribution of posts among the main ethnic groups.”

But even in these latter cases, Turovsky argues, this is “a political-technology approach to nationality policy to the extent that one is speaking in this case about the handing out of posts and about how ethnic membership is for this a weighty criteria” rather than a deeper reflection on the management of ethnic issues.

Migration has created new problems in many regions, ones that are far more challenging than in earlier times. But even here, the Moscow expert says, policy is “pragmatic” in many cases, reflecting “the symbiotic relations with the powers which form ties with Caucasus business” and work to ensure first and foremost that there are migrants available for work.

This can and does lead to situations in many places “when in public regionalleaders will speak out on behalf of the priority positions of the [ethnic] Russian community but in practice and to a remarkable degree begin to base themselves on the resources of business of ‘Caucasus origin.’”

Indeed, electoral considerations often force leaders to take such public stands, again for pragmatic reasons. The political parties are the same: they “do not so much struggle with the phenomenon [of the problems migration causes] as attempt to win the votes of those who will go out on the Manezh Square.”

Every Russian party does this, Turovsky says, with the KPRF seeking “unity of the ideas of the left and the ideas of nationalism,” United Russia approaching “nationalism through the theme of conservatism, and other parties reaching out in order to pragmatically use rather than really address the issue.

Turovsky says that this pattern holds for the liberal parties as well and has done so at least since the liberal nationalism of Boris Fedorov in “Forward Russia” in 1995, a trend that is explained by the fact that “not all liberals are supporters of globalization; there is another trend: liberalism in a separate state defended by protectionism.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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