Vienna, June 13 – Clashes between members of different ethnic groups in Stavropol over the last month and equally the reactions of the Russian media and Russian officials to them suggest that these events represent “a final warning for Moscow” that its current approach to ethnicity and citizenship is dangerously wrong.
That is the disturbing but persuasive argument advanced by Sergei Markedonov, one of the most frequent and thoughtful Moscow commentators on ethnicity, religion and civil society in the northern Caucasus, in a carefully reasoned article posted online today (http://www.prognosis.ru/news/region/2007/6/13/kondopoga_stavropol.html).
More than last summer’s clashes in the Karelian city of Kondopoga and more than the recent March of “Those who Disagree” in the capitals, he argues, the conflicts that in Stavropol between Russians and non-Russians threaten to gain support on their own and to become “an extra-systemic force” that will threaten the country.
The Russian authorities and the Russian media have failed to understand that, Markedonov continues, paying attention to the events in that North Caucasus city only when senior officials from Moscow and the Southern Federal District arrived on the scene a week after the first outbreak of violence.
That lack of attention by officials and the mainstream media allowed time for various Internet sites to fill up with stories blaming outside agitators, foreign “forces” the interior ministry or other officials for what has taken place in Stavropol. That is extremely unfortunate, the Moscow analyst says.
The Stavropol events are not the product of some outside force and they are “not a crisis in the career of particular responsible officials … [or] an outbreak of Russian fascism or Chechen nationalism.” Were only those phenomena involved, he suggests, Russia and Russians could breathe easier.
But in fact, Markedonov argues, the events in Stavropol, which represent the rise of “the pogrom as a means of resolving inter-ethnic problems is a systematic crisis of Russia’s nationality policy,” one that threatens not only inter-ethnic and inter-confessional peace but the country as a whole.
Tragically, what has taken place in Stavropol, he suggests, reflects Moscow’s willingness to allow ethnic group through institutions like National Cultural Autonomies to assume “the functions of quasi-statehood,” thus reducing the significance of Russian citizenship, limiting the responsibility of individuals and making violence more likely.
When a member of an ethnic diaspora violates the law, Markedonov argues, he is not brought to justice as an individual. Instead, the Russian authorities treat the ethnic community of which he is a member – Russian or non-Russian – as bearing a kind of “collective responsibility.”
This “institutionalization of ethnicity leads to a situation in which any crime of an individual citizen – and the Chechens in Stavropol are Russian citizens – is considered as a crime of the entire ethnic group, which thus acquires the status of ‘a collective personality.’”
As a result, Markedonov stresses, the Russian authorities now deal with such crimes not on an individual but on a group basis, something that emboldens members of many groups and that undermines the common civic nationality that must be the basis of any modern state.
The reason Stavropol must be a wake-up call for the Russian state and the citizens of the Russian Federation as a whole, he goes on to say, is that events there show how far this process has gone, how ethnic communities and some de jure federation subjects “are becoming de factor quasi-states” with their own policies toward immigrant groups.
And because that is the case, Markedonov says, “membership in this or that ethnic community [now appears to have in the eyes of many] priority in comparison with any attachment to Russia, to the Russian state and society.” Such a situation means that “the common legal space” Putin has long sought “remains an unrealized goal.
If Russia is to avoid a new round of disasters, the Moscow writer argues, the authorities must work toward the formation of a single Russian [rossiiskiy] political-civil nation.” Any other course, including the one the Stavropol events suggest it is now on, will lead to disaster.
“The path of ethnic delimitation in Russia [will] not be that of the Czech Republic and Slovakia,” Markedonov insists. And consequently, ethnic identity cannot be allowed to assume a role greater than that of civic nationalism if the Russian Federation is to remain together.
“Ethnicity cannot integrate a poly-ethnic community into a single whole. On the contrary, its politicization is the path toward conflicts and new Kondopogas,” the Moscow ethnic affairs specialist concludes. And he pointedly adds the following observation:
“In the realization of the project of ‘a civic nation,’ ethnicity will not be excluded from the life of each person, [but] it will occupy only its proper place as a cultural factor. [And] not more than that.”