By Paul Goble
Discussions of the past by Russian leaders often point to the direction they plan to take in the future, and Vladimir Putin’s recent comments about how the ethnic Russian people came to be have alarmed both conservatives and liberals, albeit for very different even opposing reasons.
In the course of a meeting of the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, the Kremlin leader shared his views about the origins of the ethnic Russian (russkiy) people (nazaccent.ru/content/31745-putin-russkij-narod-postepenno-skladyvalsya-iz.html).
He declared: “We must base ourselves on the Russian [russkiy] people. This is a compound term, the Russian [russkiy] people. Who are the Russians? There were practically no Russians before the 9th century. [The Russian people] formed gradually out of many ethnoses, mainly the Slavs but not only they – out of Finno-Ugrics and others as well.”
Putin added that this was “a natural process of development, and the establishment of the nation could not and should not be interfered with,” clearly implying that the assimilation of non-Russians into the ethnic Russian people should not be stopped but promoted and that the state should rest on this Russian people, not on “the multi-national people” as the Constitution says.
Yegor Kholmogorov, a Russian nationalist commentator, says Putin’s words have upset both liberals and patriots. “Liberals,” he says, “don’t like it that Putin intends to base himself on the Russian people.” Patriots are angry that “the president doubts the existence of a Russian people” and views it as a pastiche (tsargrad.tv/experts/kto-takie-russkie-my-slavjane_230045).
The conservative concerns, the commentator says, “are unjust. The president stressed that ethnic Russians exist but like any historical people, we did not arise readymade like mushrooms out of the earth but historically arose.” As Putin correctly noted, this happened precisely by the 9th century.
But one should not overemphasize the diversity of the sources of the Russian people: “we are much more homogeneous than the overwhelming majority of peoples of the world.” But it is true that Russians have absorbed other peoples into their number. “Thus it was and thus it will be in the future: “there is nothing terrible about the Russianization of other tribes.”
“To the contrary,” Kholmogorov continues, “the possibility for thousands and millions of people to join themselves to a great culture and tradition and become Russians is beautiful.” Not all liberals and certainly not all non-Russians would agree, however. But the Russian people is not a conglomerate: at its basis “ethnic Russians are a Slavic ethnos” linguistically and genetically.
And so,” the commentator says, “at our basis, we are Indo-Europeans, some would even with justice add that we are ‘Aryans.’” And “this means that the process of Russianization can and should continue in the future.” There is a great deal of room for Finno-Ugric and others to be absorbed.
Kholmogorov’s words, precisely because they are so blunt, are likely to be even more disturbing to liberals and non-Russians than are Putin’s words, but it is very likely that what the Russian nationalist commentator is saying is exactly what is being said in the Kremlin by Putin and his entourage.