Staunton, December 20 – The “main threat” to the territorial integrity of Russia at present does not come from “separatist and particularist attitudes of ‘the borderlands’” but from “the movement of the ethnic majority” -- the Russians -- according to one of Moscow’s most thoughtful commentators on ethnicity and ethnic conflicts.
In an essay posted online last week, Sergey Markedonov says that it is time to carefully “analyze ‘the Manezh phenomenon,” given that such “mass pogrom actions” and the reactions of experts and officials to them highlights the emergence of “a new social-political force,” which one can call “’Russian separatism’” (www.politcom.ru/print.php?id=11193).
While this force is growing, he says, it has “still not become institutionalized. It does not have its own parties,” but “sympathy for Russian separatism exists in the ranks of the law enforcement structures, the special services, and the administrations of various levels.” Consequently, it is something that bears watching and analysis.
The term “Russian separatism” may seem strange given that the obvious quesiton is “from whom are the Russians who are the ethnic majority to separate,” Markedonov says, and consequently, most people are inclined to refer to what is going on “in the most extreme case” as “extremism or xenophobia!”
But “nation building is not only subordinate to the logic of figures and simple arithmetic,” he continues. Since 1991, ethnic Russians have formed the overwhelming share of the population of the Russian Federation, but they have not been able to realize their specifically ethno-national goals. In this regard, they resemble the Ichkeria variant of the Chechens.
The number of non-Russians inside the Russian Federation is growing, “but for the state which wants to preserve itself in its current borders” – and Dmitry Medvedev has said this is almost “the main state task” – “the absolute priority is integration but not assimilation and forced russification.”
That in turn means that “the optimal Russian nationality policy is not the construction of an ‘ethnic Russian state’ but the formation of a political nation, defined as a civil society and not as a biological phenomenon.” That does not mean that the ethnic majority should despise itself as happened 20 years ago but rather that it not seek to create its own state.
Were it to do so, the existing state would either dissolve or mean that Russia would reject efforts at modernization and “preserve its backwardness.” It would mean that Russia “could not become a superpower” but rather would face “permanent separatism and segmentation” as other groups sought to escape from subordination.
“The integration of our fell citizens under the slogan ‘Russia for the Russian’ is simply impossible.” It would not be acceptable to the Tatars or Bashkirs, let alone the Tuvins and Chechens, Markedonov says. And consequently, “by separating from our unique ‘internal abroad,’ we would be separating from Russia many territories” which Russians consider Russian.
The idea now spreading through the blogosphere of “separating out the Caucasus” – that is, giving it independence, “does not on closer acquaintance withstand criticism,” the Moscow analyst says. First of all, that would not end migration or the war. Both would continue because “our Caucasus is not the Algeria of the early 1960s.” There is “no one” to reach agreement with.
Moreover, such a move would inevitably raise the question about the fate of the large number of ethnic Russians living there and about non-Russians who are proud of their involvement in Russian institutions like the military.
“But the problem is not only about territories and spaces,” he continues. If the North Caucasus were “separated out” as the Russian nationalists say they want, they would in fact “separate themselves from Russia” and their actions would lead to “a series of ethnic conflicts not only in the borderlands but in the center of the country.”
In short, “the center itself would be separating itself from the borderlands,” he argues. “’Russia for the Russians’ in this way would become an instrument for the destruction of the state” in much the same way but on a far larger scale than the slogan “’Georgia for the Georgians’ in the early 1990s threatened to destroy that republic.
“In this connection, one should note also that the logical extension of ‘the Russian project’ would become ‘the Moscow project,’ Moscow for the Muscovites.’” Indeed, some Russian separatists make use of that term without appearing to recognize that it threatens exactly what they say they want to achieve.
Of course, Markedonov says, “the self-determination of Russians and ‘Russian separatism’ are phenomena not of today [alone]. If we want, we can uncover the predecessors of this trend both in the Russian Empire and in the USSR,” where efforts to promote the Russian community led to the destruction of both.
But now, “the realization of the ‘Russia for the Russians’ project would become the sad end of the new Russia,” Markedonov says. One can talk about the discrimination of Russians in the republics, and one should “end the privatization of power by corrupt regional clans.” But one must not take the next step.
“To struggle with one politicized ethnicity with the help of another, with one ethno-nationalism with the help of another means to destroy the country by putting out a fire with the help of kerosene. In this sense,” Markedonov concludes, “Russian separatism is something just as dangerous as the Dudayev experiment of the early 1990s.”