Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Needs a Nationalities Ministry to Prevent Assimilation, Eurasian Group Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 27 – In order to stop the nations of Russia from “disappearing quietly and without notice,” the Russian section of the International Movement for the Defense of the Rights of Peoples has called for the creation of an ombudsman to defend these groups and also the re-establishment of a ministry for nationality affairs.
At a meeting this week in Volgograd, Pavel Zarifullin, the coordinator of this group, said that “every day another people disappears from the face of the earth” and that in the Russian Federation, “the russification of all peoples is taking place so strongly” that in two or three generations, even the Tatars will not exist (
But this process, which reflects the forces of globalization, is affecting not only relatively smaller groups but also large peoples like the Russians, Zarifullin suggested. And if nothing is down, then “in place of the rich diversity of nationalities of Russia and Europe will appear one big people. How should it be called? Europoids?”
Many organizations are involved with the protection of the human rights of individuals, he continued. “There are now ombudsmen for human rights” in Russia and other countries. “But where are the ombudsmen for the rights of peoples?” The lack of such institutions, especially in a country like Russia, is “simply a catastrophe!”
Zarifullin, who identifies himself as “a Eurasianist populist,” argued that in thinking about how to maintain ethnic diversity within a single state, Russians could do worse than consider the example of the Golden Horde, where instead of the amalgamation of peoples into a single community, “the identity of ethnoses was strengthened.”
If Russians are to reverse course, he said, they “must carefully study the Horde’s experience of a caring relationship to peoples and clarify why in Russia (which is the legal successor of the Golden Horde), [this ability to combine ethnic diversity within a political union] has been lost.”
A second speaker at the meeting, Boris Gekht, the chairman of the committee on nationality and Cossack affairs of the Volgograd oblast administration, was asked by journalists covering the session whether in fact the assimilation of smaller nationalities by larger ones was entirely natural and thus “nothing terrible.”
Gekht responded that in fact the disappearance of peoples “is the most terrible thing. The changes which have been called forth by globalization are simply lightning fast. We really are losing before our eyes the peoples of our country. We are losing our very essence.” And Russians must do something to reverse this course before it is too late.
“Yes,” the Volgograd official continued, “we organize dozens of ethnographic festivals, but this “in no way has an impact on the situation. New methods must be found, and society must understand and support the initiatives of the Movement for the Defense of the Rights of Peoples.”
“At the end of the day,” Gekht said, a Ministry of Nationalities must be set up in Russia which could realize the recommendations in the sphere of ethnic policy of such groups as [the Movement].” Only in this way and only by becoming “enthusiasts of the rights of peoples,” he concluded, can Russia flourish.
The Volgograd session focused on two other issues – the nature of Eurasianism in Russia today (Zarifullin was the leader of the Eurasian Union of Youth) and the meaning of “cultural regionalism” in Russia, a phenomenon in which ethnic communities share some elements at the regional level while retaining their clearly defined identities.
Artur Sospinov, the coordinator for Kalmykia of the Movement of the Defense of the Rights of Peoples, noted that “today many social organizations in Russia speak in the name of Eurasianism [Aleksandr Dugin is perhaps the most prominent of these], call themselves with titles like ‘Eurasian Union’ or ‘Eurasian direction.’”
But in fact, the Kalmyk activist said, “these structures are as far from real Eurasianism as birds flying in the heavens are from worms crawling through the mud.”
Such people, he continued, “know nothing about the Eurasian ideology, about the works of the founding fathers of our great doctrine,” including among others Nikolay Trubetskoy, Lev Gumilyev, Erenzhen Khara-Davan, Petr Savitsky, Nikolay Aleksey, Yakov Bromberg, Sergey Efron, and Petr Svyatopolk-Mirsky.
Also at the Movement’s Volgograd session, Sergey Sena, the head of the Association of Russian Restorationists of the Southern Federal District, talked about the importance of “cultural regionalism” in Eurasia, a phenomenon that his group has focused on as it works to preserve cultural monuments of the past.
“If [one] considers the classical Tsaritsyn architectural traditions of the 19th century,” he told the group, “then [one] sees that here in the lower Volga were not individual ethnic and self-standing types of culture. Mosques, synagogues, and the majority of churches, and also stores, were built in a single classical ‘Tsaritsyn’ manner from red brick.”
And that regional style was “completely different from that which [one] sees at that time in Samara or in Rostov.” Consequently, one should speak here “precisely about a regional identity where the peoples are connected among themselves by thousands of threads and realize their cultural ideas in narrow frameworks determined for them by the locale itself.”
This particular feature of life in Eurasia, he continued, is “a key to Russian Eurasian regionalism and a new ‘oblastnichestvo.’” Such “a rebirth of regional cultures,” Sena suggested, would help combine “ethnic identifications of Russia” into a single whole without any loss of their individual distinctiveness.

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