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Russian And Non-Russian Opposition Movements Increasingly At Odds – OpEd

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It was inevitable that the Russian and non-Russian opposition movements, especially as their representatives have been forced into emigration and become more radicalized, would clash, with each side seeing the other less an ally against the Putin regime than an opponent.

The reason for that lies in a fundamental difference between the two groups. On the one hand, the former sees itself as speaking for the entire country rather than just for the ethnic Russians and thus appears to the non-Russians as being as imperialist in its pretensions as the Putin regime however often the Russian opposition proclaims its commitment to democracy. 

On the other, the non-Russian movements, which for national groups which have been oppressed by the central government and seek radical forms of autonomy or even independence, are viewed by the Russian opposition as strikebreakers who are weakening the anti-Putin coalition, especially when the non-Russian activists take up the cause of Russian regionalists.

As recently as a year ago, representatives of the Russian opposition and the non-Russian opposition could at least meet together even if each was uncomfortable with the other (idelreal.org/a/31597454.html), but now they increasingly trade attacks because each views the other as wrong both in principle and tactically.

The break has now come. Earlier this week, the Russian opposition formed The Secretariat of European Russians to meet and cooperate with the leadership of the European parliament, a move that followed calls to distribute special passports to “good Russians” opposed to the Putin regime (idelreal.org/a/32136739.html and idelreal.org/a/32014204.html).

But the pretensions of the Secretariat to speak for all the opposition was quickly rejected by the non-Russian opposition. As Prague-based commentator Kharun Sidorov puts it, “for representatives of the national and egional movements, who already do not associate themselves with such a Russia, this changes nothing.”

And “therefore, they have declared that in principle any ‘Russian opposition politicians in emigration can represent themselves but not one of the national movements and that no national representation organ has given them a mandate to be the representative of the interests of the captive nations” (t.me/League_FN/613).

To promote their position, the non-Russian national and regionalist movements who are part of the League of the Free Nations of Posst-Russia have announced plans to hold a meeting of their own at the European Parliament on January 31 in the hopes of forming alliances with European deputies (t.me/freenationsrussia/1646).

At the same time, the Secretariat opposition is also being attacked by Russian nationalists who believe that it is more “New European” than Russian and say that the group does not represent the Russian nation, a position with which the non-Russian and regionalist oppositions completely agree (idelreal.org/a/31502982.html).

None of this should have surprised anyone, Sidorov continues. The Russian opposition does not conceive itself as a national Russian opposition. Instead, “the majority of its members identify either as non-ethnic Russians [rossiyane] or as ethnic Russians [russkiye] but in the broad sense, viewing this term not as ethno-national but as cultural-linguistic.”

They thus believe that their identity should be shared by all who ae part of the “Russian language space, independent of their ‘nationalities,’” a position very close to the Kremlin’s and thus highly offensive to both non-Russians who define themselves in ethnic terms or regionalists who object to Moscow’s repression.

Even more, among the Russian opposition, Sidorov says, “one can find today not a few convinced opponents of Russian nationalism and supporters of fashionable in this circles of the principles of ‘inclusivity and diversity’ who call for particular defense and promotion of all kinds of ‘minorities’ from sexual and gender to ethnic and racial.”

But “the problem is that representatives of national and regional movements united in the League of free Nations do not want to be either “’Russians in the broad sense of the word’ or to be viewed as non-ethnic ‘Russian minorities’ such as ‘Russian Kalmyks,’ Tatar Russians’ or as minority groups like the LGBTs or the Cossacks.’”

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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