Vienna, October 3 – Almost 14 years to the day when he issued a decree calling for the expulsion of “persons of Caucasian nationality” from the Russian capital and five years to the month after President Putin disbanded the post-Soviet nationalities ministry, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has called for re-establishment of that institution.
But it is already clear that his primary reasons for doing so are to shift responsibility to the federal authorities for many of the problems in his city and gain additional funds for his own programs and that the Kremlin will not support the idea, especially after the latest changes at the Ministry for Regional Affairs.
Yesterday, at a meeting of the Moscow city government devoted to organizing a three-year program in the Russian capital to improve inter-ethnic relations there, Luzhkov called for the re-establishment of a federal ministry for the affairs of nationalities to help overcome xenophobia, Interfax reported.
But his proposal almost immediately came under fire, not only from leading specialists on ethnic issues familiar with the problems such institutions experienced in the past but also from officials in the Presidential Administration, whose opposition is likely to block the realization of Luzhkov’s idea.
Emil Pain, perhaps Russia’s most accomplished specialist on xenophobia, told one news outlet that he doubted such a ministry could be effective in countering “the massive growth of xenophobia,” one of the few issues where most Russians acknowledge things are getting worse (http://www.izbrannoe.info/15579.html).
That is because, he continued, such ministries – and they existed in Soviet times between 1917 and 1923 and in post-Soviet times from 1994 to 2001 –always lack the power to intervene where they are most needed because of the bureaucratic and political interests of other state structures.
Ethnicity and religion are aspects of almost all issues rather than categories that officials can deal with in isolation – however much Russian politicians, the Russian people, and at least a few in the Moscow expert community may want to believe otherwise.
Moreover, there has always been the problem that such agencies have focused on ethnic minorities rather than on the numerically predominant ethnic Russian nation, an approach that is today increasingly discredited in the eyes of many members of the country’s largest ethnic group.
As a result, Pain added, such ministries, however much hope is invested in them, typically limit themselves to questions of ideology, a dangerous restriction given that “the sources of xenophobia lie not in the ideological sphere but in the area of social-economic and political relations” (http://www.izbrannoe.info/15618.html).
Other specialists in this area have been equally critical of proposals to re-establish such an agency for the last five years, even though political figures like Luzhkov routinely advance them because the lack of such a body in a multi-national country like the Russian Federation seems counter-intuitive.
But their opposition is not nearly as important as the opposition of senior officials in the Kremlin. According to a report in today’s Kommersant newspaper, these officials have unanimously indicated that the country’s top leaders oppose creating such a new ministry and that, as a result, Luzhkov’s proposal is going nowhere fast.
They pointed to the appointment of Dmitriy Kozak, the former head of the Southern Federal District, as minister for regional affairs and as of this week head of a new commission for the improvement of social-economic conditions in that district, as compelling reasons not to create a competing ministry
And they almost certainly could have added that the appointment of Kamil Iskhakov, a Muslim who served as mayor of Kazan and most recently as head of the Far Eastern Federal District, as Kozak’s deputy ensures that that ministry will have primary responsibility for nationality issues (http://www.vz.ru/politics/2007/10/3/114283.html).
Consequently, Luzhkov’s latest essay into nationality policy is likely to fail. But at the same time, it does not appear likely that his statements this week will cast such a negative shadow on his city and his country as have his October 1993 decree in the wake of the conflict between Boris Yeltsin and the old Supreme Soviet.