Staunton, December 27 – As ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation have intensified, many non-Russian officials in the Middle Volga and North Caucasus have called for the re-establishment of the Ministry for Nationality Affairs that then-President Vladimir Putin disbanded in 2001.
But today, incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev said he would not take that step because such institutions, which people always call for when there is a problem, had not been effective in the past and would only create more bureaucracy rather than lead to better policies and inter-ethnic relations(www.vestikavkaza.ru/news/obshestvo/meznaz/30900.html).
He thus rebuffed calls this past week for the restoration of such an institution from the State Council of Tatarstan (karim-yaushev.ru/2010/12/24/1052/), the World Congress of Tatars (islamportal.ru/novosti/104/1354/), and a leader of the Moscow Daghestani community (www.sknews.ru/main/45052-rossiyu-spasti-ili-raschlenit.html), among others.
These and other advocates of the restoration of such a ministry argue that in a country as ethnically diverse as Russia, there needs to be a government institution with the responsibility and authority needed to develop a coordinated set of policies lest there be even more ethnic conflicts in the future.
And they look back to the existence of the People’s Commissariat of Nationality Affairs at the dawn of Soviet power (1917-1923) and at the Russian Federation Ministry of Nationality Affairs and Regional Policy (1994-2001) as being such institutions and providing the non-Russians with a forum to present their grievances and ideas.
The advocates of a new nationalities ministry focus on the latter. It was created in January 1994 in place of the State Committee on the Affairs of the Federation and Nationalities and the State Committee for Social-Economic Development of the North. Initially called the Ministry of Nationality Affairs and Regional Policy, it was renamed the Minstry for Naitonality Affairs and Federal Relations in 1996.
In May 2000, this ministry was given additional responsibilities for regulating migration and renamed again, this time as the Ministry for Federation Affairs and National and Migraiton Policy. But on October 16, 2001, then-President Putin disbanded it, dividing its responsibilities among the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry for Economic Development.
Putin explained his action at the same as one intended to “optimize the structures of the federal organs of power.” But many people, especially among the non-Russians though then and now that he had disbanded the Nationalities Ministry as part of his broader drive to recentralize power in the Russian Federation and build his power vertical.”
As both Soviet and Russian experience showed, there is a fundamental problem with a ministry of this type. If it is given enough power to develop nationality policy across the board, it would become a super-ministry, one that would be giving orders to almost every other agency of the Russian state.
But if it does not have that kind of power, then it is difficult to see exactly what it will do that is not also being done by others, raising the question of whether it is an unnecessary redundancy and little more than a talk shop for non-Russian nationalities interested in having a venue to present their views.
Many in the Moscow expert community share those concerns, and in an article entitled, “The Spectre of a Nationalities Ministry is Wandering Through Russia,” journalist Yegor Maymushin concludes that academic specialists “do not see any sense in re-establishing” such a structure (www.dailyj.ru/articles/2010/12/24/79713.html).
Aleksandr Duka, head of the sociology of power and civil society sector of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that the whole idea of creating such a structure “from the outset is not very clear” and that he thus opposes taking this step. Institutions already exist to do everything its backers say it would do.
The sociologist added that from his perspective, it is “doubly suspicious” that the chief advocates of a new nationalities ministry are from Tatarstan. “In this republic,” he noted, “there always were quite strong attitudes about a special relationship with Russia to the point of separation.”
Vladimir Gelman, a professor of political science at St. Petersburg’s European University, agreed. Moreover, he said, the previous incarnations of a nationalities ministry provided no basis for seeking a new one. These institutions “arose and then disappeared” without any real results being visible to anyone.
Medvedev’s decision today means that there won’t be a nationalities ministry any time soon, but those in the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga who believe it would help them are unlikely to stop pushing for one, especially because they have some allies in Moscow and because new ethnic clashes are likely to make their arguments more persuasive.