Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russian Republics a ‘Luxury’ Russia Can No Longer Afford, Moscow Journalist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 25 – Russia can no longer afford “the luxury” of existence of non-Russian republics within its borders, formations that were created by the Bolsheviks to purchase the loyalty of the non-Russians against the White Movement, according to a leading Moscow journalist who cites Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov in support of his ideas.
Writing in “Izvestiya” last week, Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich, a special correspondent for that paper and a senior editor of “Russky reporter,” says that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s proposal to do away with the presidential titles of the leaders of the non-Russian republics does not go far enough (
Kadyrov’s initiative, Sokolov-Mitrich continues, “merits serious attention. Much more serious than it may seem even to the initiator of it himself.” Indeed, the journalist says, if Russians are prepared to say A, they should be prepared to say B, which in this case means that they should be ready for “the elimination of national components in the names of the republics.
Such “a slow but true de-ethnicization of the Russian political space” would mean that there would no longer be “any Bashkortostans, Sakha-Yakutias, Ingushetias, and Adygeyas. There would be no republics with a titular nationality.” Instead, these territories would be called on the basis of geographic rather than ethnic terms.
“The alternative to this path,” the journalist continues, would be “the further degradation of these regions from social problems to economic ones, from economic ones to political ones, and from political ones to geo-political ones,” a trend with the most fateful and negative consequences for the country.
It is worth noting how these republics came into existence in the first place, Sokolov-Mitrich says. “Ninety years ago, the Bolsheviks assembled under their banners the national minorities, paying them off for their loyalty with the right to form national republics and autonomies.”
At that time, “this was a decisive political move in the struggle against the White Guard movement. And it is certain that the price which Soviet power paid in this way for the integrity of the state was at that movement necessary and justified.” Had Moscow not paid it, the consequences would have been frightful.
“Russian inevitably would have split into dozens if not hundreds of sovereign non-states, and the post-Russian space for a long time would have been transformed into a dirty and bloody arena of world history. But,” Sokolov-Mitrich argues, “since that time, much has changed. And today the risks are very different.
If at the start of the Bolshevik period, he writes, the main “risk factor” for the Russian state was “the absence of national territorial formations,” today, it is their existence that threatens the country and its future.
According to Sokolov-Mitrich, who has often written articles and even a book bitterly critical of non-Russians in general and non-Russian migrants inside major Russian cities in particular, there are three reasons why he considers that “the existence of national baronies is a threat to Russian statehood.
First of all, he suggests, regions based on ethnicity are “a constant threat of separatism,” and “even if this threat is spectral, the national elites will try to sell this good at as high a price as possible. [Such] separatist marketing,” Sokolov-Mitrich says, “is a constant headache for the federal center.”
Second, such national republics with the “narrowly ethnic” policies of their elites lead the people there to view the center with suspicions and to believe that “’our republic is ours and only ours, and the rest of Russia is something in common and only in common,’” an attitude that he says “provokes many to inadequate behavior beyond the borders of ‘their’ regions.”
Consequently, the very existence of “ethnically designated regions becomes a powerful generator of nationalist attitudes among representatives of what up until yesterday had been the nationally neutral majority of the country,” the ethnic Russians. And they then decide that “if [the non-Russians] are uniting, then it is time for us to do so as well if we are to survive.”
And third, Sokolov-Mitrich argues, is “the most important threat” that the existence of the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation constitute. “Today,” he says, “the key to the stability of the state is not only the loyalty of the population but above all its capacity for development in the conditions of real and transparent competition.”
That idea, the journalist says, he takes from Vladislav Surkov, the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, who argues that “state sovereignty is the political synonym of competitiveness.” If that is so, then, Russians “today cannot permit themselves the luxury of buying the loyalty of their peoples at any price.”
“The world economy is changing in front of our eyes,” the journalist says, “and regions, formed on an ethnic basis are condemned to stagnation – in them there is not and never will be real competition of human abilities. Instead, there will be a struggle of clans for the right to a sweet life.”
“If I had before me a magic button, the pushing of which would mean that our country would instantly become something like the United States of Russia, I would push it without any vacillation.” Unfortunately, “there is no such button. But rather there is a most complex process requiring wisdom, patience and political will” that Russia must embark on now.
Because of Sokolov-Mitrich’s past writings and reputation, many non-Russians may be inclined to ignore this article as more of the same; but because of the journalist’s invocation of the influential Surkov, they would almost certainly be wrong to do so. Indeed, this article may represent the clearest indication yet that Russia’s non-Russian republics are increasingly at risk.

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