Baku, April 28 – Many commentators have focused on the efforts of Russian cities to restrict the influx of non-Russian Gastarbeiters, but far fewer have explored the ways in which non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation are restricting access of outsiders to economic activities there.
But according to an article in an Omsk newspaper, that has been given new prominence by being posted on a major Moscow news portal, such restrictions, which are the product of «clan-based nationalism and feudal localism” is “a bomb” that threatens to undermine the unity of the country (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-trends/index-19655.html).
Six weeks ago, Omsk’s Novoye obozreniye carried an extensive article about the ways in which three non-Russian republics – North Ossetia, Tuva, and Bashkortostan – have limited opportunities for ethnic Russians, both longtime residents and new arrivals in ways that violate both the Russian Constitution and the requirements of economic life.
That article would likely have passed unnoticed has it not been posted this week on the Moscow’s Institute for Religion and Politics site, a development that reflects mounting Russian anger at non-Russian criticism of the restrictions Russian cities have imposed and that may point to new Moscow moves against the non-Russian republics.
In North Ossetia, the three Omsk journalists said, people still like to refer to their republic as “the advance post of Russia” in the Caucasus, but now many of them “not without bitter irony” typically add “A Russian advance post – only without Russians,” a reflection of the declining numbers and status of Russians there.
In 1979, ethnic Russians formed 49 percent of the urban population; now, they are only 20 percent. “And among administrators, [ethnic] Russians there represent 11 percent today as against 40 percent at the end of the 1970s,” declines which are even more striking if one considers the “Russian-speaking” nationalities as a whole, the journalists noted.
What there has been in North Ossetia is the wholesale “Ossetinization “ of the economy and the government, a process that reflects both conscious government policy of pushing Ossetins forward and the collapse of major defense industries in which ethnic Russians and others once worked.
For the jobs that remain, ethnic Russian activists there say, only Ossetins who can exploit family ties have much of a chance to be hired and advance. “Slavs who do not have such traditional clan support are in a much more complicated situation.” And as a result, those who can often decide to leave a place that has long been their homeland.
“We were taught,” one Russian said, “that is was possible to jump from feudalism to socialism, thus bypassing an entire social-economic formation. But it turns out, that this is not the case.” When socialist industry disappeared, so did socialism. And feudal values resumed their dominant position.
According to the Omsk reporters, “the [ethnic] Russian population of North Ossetia is gradually being marginalized,” and as a result, in a few years, “Vladikavkaz will really be an advance post of Russia but just as was the case some 200 years ago, it will be an exclusively military one.”
A local FSB official said “unofficially” that everything depends on whether Moscow will rebuild the industry that will hold the Slavic population there. If it does, he said, then the Ossetin population will continue to serve “not only as a special kind of buffer between local nationalities and clans but also the bearer of what is called Russian culture.”
In Tuva, the situation for Russians may be even worse, the Omsk journalists said. At the end of the 1980s, there were some of the worst national clashes in the USSR. More than 80 people were killed, and some 30,000 ethnic Russians left immediately. Their departure has been added to as a result of the systematic “Tuvanization” of the government apparatus there.
Indeed, the departure of the Russians as a result of the closure of major plants means that some of the parts of the republic “recall the streets of Grozny,” although “there was never any bombing there.” Instead, the plant closed, and its employees and their families, many of them Russians left. Of the 2500 Russians in one district, fewer than 500 remain.
Although pressure against Russians has eased in recent years, there is only one non-Tuvin in the upper reaches of the government – Economics Minister Sergei Ten – and he is an ethnic Korean rather than a Russian. Seeing they have no chance to move up, Russians continue to leave, but so too do many more educated Tuvans.
The schools, even where instruction is in Russian, are increasingly dominated by Tuvans, something that dictates what gets taught and who advances. And as a result of all this, the Omsk reporters continued, “Russians in Tuva now, beyond any doubt, feel themselves to be a [despised] national minority.”
And such economic, political and cultural pressure on Russians is now so great, they said, that Russians in Tuva would complain about what is going on only after they were assured anonymity, lest they or members of their community face retribution from the Tuvans who now dominate the scene.
This change disturbs some Tuvans. Irina Madr-ool, a pediatrician who is the daughter of a Russian nobleman and a Tuvan diplomat, said “Earlier in Soviet times, I looked around and all the chiefs were Russian. And I was ashamed. Now I look around and all the chiefs are Tuvans. And I am again ashamed.”
Hostility between the two groups is not going to go away soon, the journalists concluded, with each side saying that the other consisted of entirely “normal” people except when they drink – and then each described the other as becoming beast-like. That raises the question, the Omsk writers said, of whether the best way to fight nationalism might be to fight alcoholism.
And in Bashkortostan, the dominance of the Bashkirs is tangible, even though they rank third in size behind the ethnic Russians and the Tatars. The government insists on that both through its appointments and via pressure on voters, according to Il’dar Gabdrafikov, an ethnographer at the Ufa Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Pressure against Russians in the educational system is so great that ethnic Russians have to offer a bribe of 90,000 rubles (375 U.S. dollars) for admission to a university, while Bashkirs need give only half as much. And the Omsk journal said this is “completely public” knowledge in the republic.
Businessmen are also pressed to have only Bashkirs in public positions, even if they are not competent and their Russian deputies have to do all the work. That offends many Russians who say that education and competence, not nationality, should define things. But at the same time, one of the Russians told the Omsk reporters that “thank God, I have a Russian boss.”
While “no one has yet changed his family name in order to ensure a more comfortable life,” the paper reported, many have begun talking about that possibility,” given that everything Russian – names, cultural heroes, holidays, ways of life – is despised, while everything Bashkir is celebrated.
As a result, many Russians and even other non-Bashkirs now say, “there is Russia and there is Bashkortostan. These are not one and the same thing. Bashkortostan [for non-Bashkirs] is simply a temporary place of residence.” Their real homes are elsewhere. And “between [the two] there is an invisible but impassable border.”