Saturday, March 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Few Russians Opt to Declare Their Nationality in the Russian Military, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 6 – When soldiers are asked to voluntarily list their nationality in military documents, a retired Russian officer says, “no more than five to seven percent” declare themselves to be Russians, even though that is what they are, thus raising the question “why do these boys not want to declare their nationality?”
In the current issue of the journal of the Russian military-industry sector, Lt. Col. (ret.) Roman Ilyushchenko says that they don’t feel the need to do so, which means that “neither in school nor at home has anyone forced them to reflect over the simple questions: who are you, who is part of your family, and where do your roots extend?”
And he suggests that this lack of a sense of identity “violates all the traditions and principles of both the Russian and the current Russian Federation army which never were super-national and non-national formations as is indicated by their names” if by nothing else
According to Ilyushchenko, “any serving office will confirm that identification with nationality or region always has played an important role in the development of military unit cohesion.” Consequently, any decline in that identity or even more indifference to these identities represents a serious problem for the military and the country.
One senior officer in the legal affairs office of the defense ministry, the commentator says, told him that “it is not politically correct to be interested in the nationality of soldiers. It now is now determined only when the serviceman has committed a crime.’ …The absurdity and mistakenness if not criminality of this position is demonstrated by life itself.”
Soldiers who are members of other nationalities including those from the Caucasus do not neglect to declare who they are, but Russians fail to do so, Ilyushchenko continues, because they “have not recalled that they are representatives of the state-forming Russian people whose glorious ancestors” build the state and defended it.
This must be changed. “It is necessary above all to educate our young people in the spirit of national self-consciousness,’ something that will require shifting away from the current “system of non-national, pan-human, and tolerant (read – spineless) education of young people” in Russia.
That is because, he says, “precisely the traditional Russian school of education, tested by the millennium of our history” is responsible for “all out victories,” and he cites “the well-known words of I.V. Stalin said by him in the Kremlin in the victorious year of 1945” concerning the qualities of the Russian people.
At that time, the Soviet leader proposed a toast “to the health of the Russian people because it is the most outstanding nation of all the nations who are part of the Soviet Union and the leading force of all the peoples of our country because it has a clear mind, a firm character and endurance.”
Tragically, Ilyushchenko says, “the experience of the inculcation of these qualities in the younger generation today has been largely lost.” And sociological research, he adds, show that “the majority of our citizens [now] have only a very approximate understanding of their country’s history and their own genealogical background.”
That must be changed in order to produce the qualities Russian soldiers have shown in the past, especially given the efforts of some to transform ethnic Russians into non-ethnic ones just like “at one time [the powers that be] tried to convince us that we were first of all Soviet and only then Russian.”
“Of course,” Ilyushchenko concludes, “it is necessary to show one’s national patriotism not only by external things like writing one’s nationality in military documents or on t-shirts like football fans. Everything is much deeper. But the process must begin” so that a Russian will say “’I am a Russian. And I am proud of this!’”
Ilyushchenko’s article is important for three reasons. First, it highlights something that many in Russia and even more outside it are unwilling to acknowledge: Russian ethno-national identity now as has often been true in the past is in many cases far weaker than the ethno-national identity of other groups in that country.
Second, many in the military and the Russian Orthodox Church with which Ilyushchenko is closely associated are frightened by this reality, seeing it a threat to the strength and power of the Russian military in the first instance and of the Russian Federation as a country more generally.
And third, it suggests that many of them, including Patriarch Kirill and many military officers, are calling for ignoring the provision of the 1993 Constitution that specifies citizens have the right to declare any nationality or not, a move that if it took place could undermine any chance for the civic identity on which the future of the Russian Federation depends.

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