Vienna, April 24 – The Kremlin’s approach over the last several years to nationality issues and the problems arising from them is poorly designed, inadequately institutionalized and significantly underfunded, according to Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov and other Russian legislators.
At a hearing of the upper chamber yesterday, Mironov along with other legislators and experts denigrated in perhaps the harshest language used by senior Russian officials in the last decade what they said were the shortcomings of the Moscow’s policies in this area (http://www.novopol.ru/article19940.htm and http://www.vz.ru/, April 23).
First of all, Mironov and other speakers said, despite President Vladimir Putin’s decision four years ago to create a special inter-agency commission to come up with a new concept paper for Russia’s nationality policy, the Russian government has failed to produce one, forcing the country to rely or ignore the 1996 version.
As a result and because of the failures of the country’s executive branch to perform adequately in this area on the basis of the earlier conception, the Federation Council speaker continued, the Russian legislature has been forced to fulfill the functions of “a center of operational reaction” to events in this area.
Other lawmakers suggested “the problems with the conception of the government’s nationality policy were connected not so much with the shortcomings of [the 1996 document] as with the [government’s] weak realization of its provisions in practice.”
Second, Mironov said, the Russian government has failed to create a single ministry or agency responsible for all nationality policies or even to create a network of regional monitoring bodies to ensure that the central government knows what is going on and can respond in a timely fashion.
Because responsibility for nationality policies is divided among a variety of government offices, it is difficult if not impossible the legislators said for them to supervise what is going on and to ensure that the intentions of the government are in fact carried out.
And third, Mironov and his colleagues noted, the executive branch has failed to develop a line item budget for nationality policies and to fund adequately the programs within the cultural sphere that affect inter-ethnic relations, something that not only limits Moscow’s ability to control the situation but in and of itself sparks conflicts.
On the one hand, the lack of a line item budget means that the government has typically underfunded initiatives in this area, something that inevitably leads to more tensions as expectations are raised and then dashed – although Mironov did report that the finance ministry has said it is prepared to create a line item for nationality policy.
And on the other, this underfunding is creating real problems especially among diaspora groups. Chimit-Dorzh Ondar, a senior official of the Assembly of Peoples of Russia, told the group that the absence of state funding for these groups is sparking tensions among them.
This lack of government money, Ondar said, is leading to a situation in which “national communities are being converted into closed clans, which support criminal structures” and where as a result, these communities instead of working together for the common good instead “are increasingly hostile to each other.”
Indeed, the situation has become so serious, Mironov insisted in remarks to “Vzglyad,” that “social and government institutions involved in nationality policy are weakly developed and the harsh laws which are intended to prevent extremism and xenophobia work, only on paper.”
Executive branch officials attempted to put the best face on the situation, but in every case, theegislators present rejected their arguments. Mikhail Ponomaryev, head of the nationality policy section of the Regional Development Ministry, showed slides and attempted to defend what the government has done up to now.
According to Ponomaryev, the regional development ministry is
continuing to perfect its normative activity in the sphere of the defense of the small peoples of the North” and reacting “to new challenges in the sphere of nationality conflicts.”
And Andrei Yurin, head of interbudgetary relations at the finance ministry, also failed to win his argument. He tried to show that “the question of the absence in budgetary classifications of a section” on nationality issues reflects the government’s understanding of the nature of ethnic problems rather than something else.
In one respect, this hearing did not contain very much new: Mironov has been calling for the re-establishment of a nationalities ministry and for regional ethnic monitoring for much of the last year. And many legislators from ethnically mixed regions have long been upset by Moscow’s inaction in this area.
But in another way, this hearing does represent the crossing of a Rubicon on nationality policy because it is virtually a declaration of war against the Russian government’s approach in recent years, something that most legislators have been reluctant to do until very recently.
At the very least, the comments coming out of this meeting suggest that debates about how Moscow should deal with ethnic challenges are likely to heat up in the near term and especially as the Russian Federation heads into parliamentary and presidential polls over the next two years.