Staunton, September 17 – Russian census officials reaffirm they will count as Siberians those who declare themselves to be members of that nationality, but officials in the region are deeply divided about calls for Siberians to do so, with some feeling that it is entirely appropriate – indeed, they say they’ll do so themselves – and others viewing it as a dangerous provocation.
Like his superior Rosstat head Aleksandr Surinov, Irkutskstat official Matilda Guselnikova says that “residents are free to declare themselves Siberians” by nationality and that census takers will be directed to record such declarations honestly and without making any change (www.i38.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3958:-l-----r-----------2010-&catid=35:2010-03-22-08-16-04&Itemid=5).
But when local television journalists interviewed political figures there, the news service found that officials were deeply divided on such declarations, an indication that what began as an appeal by the “Real Siberian” website is attracting broader attention and that politicians are seeking to position themselves with an eye simultaneously on the people there and on Moscow.
Irkutsk’s Teleinform today broadcast and then published the responses of five politicians in Siberia to two questions: “If a certain number of residents of Siberia declare themselves to be Siberians, will this give any preferences to the territory?” and “Will you declare yourself to be a Siberian?”
Yuri Faleychik, a deputy of the Irkutsk legislative assembly, says that he is extremely pleased that Siberians can declare themselves to be Siberians in the census. “If they ask me, then of course, I will say that I am a Siberian. I was born here, grew up here and certainly will die here.”
But he adds that he “thinks that even if all describe themselves as Siberians, this will not give Siberia anything.” That is because, he suggests, it is “excluded” that Moscow will give any “preferences to Siberia,” despite the widespread believe in the population there that such declarations will force the center to do so.
Yevgeny Rulkov, a KPRF deputy in the same regional legislature, agrees. “There is no such people” as the Siberians, he says, and “even if not thousands but millions of people [declare themselves in this way to census takers], this will not bring anything to Siberia.” Instead, Moscow will continue to ignore Siberia and pursue its own interests.
In Soviet times, the Communist deputy continues, the central government “devoted the most serious attention to Siberia and not only to the great construction projects.” Thanks to that effort, “Siberia is part of the Russian Federation and must remain a part.” But at the same time, Moscow must change its approach “in a radical way” to the region.
But declaring Siberian as a nationality won’t help, Rulkov says, adding that “I will not call myself a Siberian because this is unreal and not objective. I will [instead] write down that nation to which I belong.”
But if the first two politicians the news service asked treated calls for people to declare themselves Siberian by nationality as more or less irrelevant, a third deputy, Anton Romanov argues that these appeals are anything but unimportant. Indeed, he says, “the introduction of the nationality ‘Siberian’ can provoke separatism.”
As such, Romanov continues, it is “directed at the Balkanization of Russia” -- that is, “the development of the situation in Russia according to the Yugoslavia scenario. Today,” he adds, “those who led the Soviet Union to its grave are not stopping in their attempts to dismember Russia as well.”
“The introduction of ‘Siberian’ as a nationality is an effort to provoke the appearance of a new national community which didn’t exist before in order to put in play separatist tendencies with new force.” Consequently, he says, “there is nothing more dangerous than to divide Russia today by nationality or religion.”
Consequently, Romanov says, “as a result of these reflections, I will not describe myself as a Siberian in the census. We are Siberians by origin and territory, beyond any question. But to say that we are Siberians by nationality is in my view incorrect.”
Mikhail Kulekhov, a journalist and organizers of the Oblaskniki Alternative for Siberia, argues that declarations of Siberian nationality “legalize the activity of the oblastniki movement for the separation of Siberia from Russia.” Such declarations won’t by themselves prompt Moscow to make concessions, but they will change the politics of the region.
“Having acknowledged the existence of a particular people –‘the Siberians’—the highest organs of power of the Russian Federation are opening the legal possibility of applying [to Siberia] the UN Declaration ‘On the Right of Colonial and Dependent Countries and Peoples to Self-Determination.”
Kulekhov adds that “de facto the federal center has acknowledged its incapacity in any way to solve the problems of Siberia and practically in an open text is declaring about its willingness to enter into a dialogue with those forces which are prepared to take on themselves responsibility and thus form a genuine Siberian autonomy.”
“Yes,” the activist continued, “I will write down Siberian [because] I have considered myself that all my life.”
Finally, Valery Lukin, the deputy chairman of the Irkutsk oblast trade union organization, insists that “this is a provocation of separatist attitudes which strengthen those who call for the separation of Siberia from Russia.” And because that must not happen, he says, “he will not be described as a Siberian” in the census.
Although Irkutsk’s statistical official Guselnikova told the media that she will follow the orders of her Rosstat superiors, she made an additional comment that suggest she may be less sympathetic to the Siberian nationality than might be the case and that her attitudes may affect the enumeration.
She said that there are many communities in Russia of which one consists of the Siberians. But to be effective, neither they nor the Siberians need to be a nationality. Indeed, the statistical official asked rhetorically, “what could possibly change if someone or other declares himself to be a Siberian?”
But as the journalists noted, many residents in Siberia think differently and assume that such declarations of nationality will have consequences. That is forcing officials to take a position, a step that will both reinforce the commitment of those who already plan to declare themselves as Siberian and attract more attention to what they are doing.