Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russian Nationalism Could Be ‘State Destroying,’ Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 26 – There is no “Russian question,” a Moscow commentator says, “but it is easy to create it” with a slogan like “Russia for the Russians,” which Russians define as a demand for special privileges and non-Russians as meaning “Russia AGAINST the Non-Russians” or even “’Russia without the non-Russians,’ including the non-Russian republics.”
And as recent events at the start of the 2011 and 2012 electoral cycles show, Leonid Radzikhovsky argues, the raising of “the Russian question” not only threatens to re-open and exacerbate “the nationality question at the expense of other issues but make ethnic Russian nationalism into a “state-destroying” force (
Despite polls showing that Russian voters are far more concerned about inflation and economic issues, recent events almost certainly mean that “the nationality question” will play an important role in upcoming campaigns with various parties seeking to present themselves as defenders of this or that group especially given recent ethnic clashes in Russian cities.
But the most prominent aspect of this issue, Radzikhovsky argues, is “the Russian question” both because the ethnic Russians are the largest nationality in the Russian Federation and because members of this community have been advancing slogans of the “Russia for the Russians” kind.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), and a number of others in recent months have insisted that “it is above all necessary to solve the Russian question,” an assertion that invites a discussion about just what that “question” consists of.
“Perhaps,” Radzikhovsky says, “Russian people are deprived of some rights?!” That would be laughable if people weren’t saying it so seriously and “not simply ‘seriously’ but with anger and pathos.” Many will be angry with him for saying this, the commentator says, because Russians appear to like to feel themselves insulted and injured.
But such feelings make it especially important to consider the facts. “The state language always was Russian,” he notes, although it is true that the state never limited itself to ethnic Russians alone. Moreover, “almost the entire government, the Presidential Adminstraiton, all governors, and deputies are ethnic Russians.”
And while in the first post-Soviet years, the representation of ethnic Russians in the country’s business elites was “disproportionately small,” now “the proportion has corrected itself and more than 70 percent” have Russian names, whatever their ethnic background may be, exactly what one would expect given the percentage of Russians in the population.
While a number of nations suffered from official discrimination in the past, including in the eyes of many ethnic Russians their own ancestors, there is no legal discrimination against any ethnic group at the present time. There are, of course, day to day clashes on an ethnic basis, something that will be true in any multi-ethnic society.
Indeed, the Moscow commentator continues, while it is “a lie” to say that “criminals have no nationality,” it is also untrue to suggest that members of one or another ethnic community are committing a disproportionate share of crimes. Yes, some North Caucasians have killed Russians, but probability suggests far more Russians have died at the hands of other Russians.
Under these conditions, what does it mean “to solve the Russian question?” Russians have all the rights they should have, “but ‘the question’ is not solved.” From that flows “logically” one conclusion, Radzikhovsky says. ‘The solution of the question’ must be the offering of privileges to Russians – in comparison with other nations.”
And what would that mean in practice? It would mean that Russians would be competing with Russians rather than Caucasians for university places and jobs, something that would exacerbate social and class tensions even if it lessened Russian national concerns.
But members of “the other nations” would react as well. And therein lies a serious threat. The slogan “Russian for the Russians” when translated into “non-Russian” languages will mean “Russia AGAINST the non-Russians;” that is, “Russia without the non-Russians” and ultimately without the non-Russian republics as well.
Radzikhovsky concludes by suggesting that there is no such thing as the Russian question, but he adds that “CREATING it is easy.” And if it arises, Russians who view themselves as “a state forming nation” could be transformed into “a state destructing one,” even as this distracts attention from the “REAL vital problems in Russia” today.

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