Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev’s Words Point Either toward a Russian Federation with Russian Autonomies or toward a Russian National State, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 19 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s words about Russians this week recognize the difference between the ethnic and non-ethnic definition of Russians and point toward either the formation of ethnic Russian autonomies within the Russian Federation or the transformation of that country into a Russian national state, according to a Moscow analyst.
But whatever Medvedev’s intentions, Sergey Kornyev argues, his words highlight “a well-known algorithm of contemporary feudal statehood: the rights of each social group are recognized to the degree it manifests force and brutality,” a reference to the Manezh violence but also an indication of what may happen next (
And consequently, Kornyev’s logic suggests, Medvedev and the Russian state will be forced in one or another direction depending on whether there are more radical protests by Russians or not and on whether other groups feel compelled to respond in kind, thus opening the way to more clashes rather than fewer regardless of what Moscow chooses to do.
“Russians in the form of sports fanatics, school children and a few political activists,” Kornyev begins, have forced the powers that be to talk “about [ethnic] Russians in a neutral-positive key” rather than ignore them or criticize them as has been the case for most of the last two decades when the state only wanted to talk about non-ethnic Russians.
One can interpret Medvedev’s remarks as the start of the campaign for votes given that the Russians forma majority, he continues, but such comments have the effect of changing “the position of Russians in the framework of ‘the Multi-national’ [state and society]” and thus must be seized on to promote ethnic Russian interests.
In Kornyev’s interpretation, Medvedev acknowledged with his words “three important things.” First, the president admitted that “the ethnic Russian people exists and is something distinguished from the multi-national non-ethnic people.” Second, his words indicate that “ethnic Russian national culture is different from the multi-national non-ethnic Russian culture.”
And third, they represent an acknowledgement that “ethnic Russians in Russia dominate by number, culture, language and religions. Thus, in cultural-linguistic relations, the multi-national non-ethnic Russia is built around the ethnic Russia. In essence, the State Russia is established by ethnic Russians.”
These three theses, Kornyev says, do not all point in the same direction. Theses one and two point to the need for the formation of ethnic Russian autonomy within the Russian Federation, while thesis three points “the reformation of Russia into an ethnic Russian national state.”
If Moscow follows the first and second thesis, the analyst continues, five things follow. First, Someone must “have the right to speak in the name of ethnic Russians and not just all the citizens of Russia.” Second, ethnic Russians must have the right to autonomy and this must be guaranteed by the Constitution.
Third, if ethnic and non-ethnic Russians are different, then it must be acknowledged that ethnic Russians have their own distinctive interests and problems. Fourth, ethnic Russians must have the right to show “solidarity with ethnic Russians living abroad.” And fifth, ethnic Russians at home must have their own cultural outlets.
If, however, Moscow follows the third thesis, the one that points toward redefining the Russian Federation as a Russian national state, several very different things follow, Kornyev argues. Such a change does not mean, as some fear, an attack on “the equality of all citizens before the law independent of origin.” But it does mean something else.
Specifically, he says, it means that “the equality of all cultures, languages and ethnic groups (as integral collectives) … is an absolutely unreal thing for any, even the most tolerant country.” It is clear, Kornyev says, that “no real ‘equality of languages and cultures’ can existin Russia.”
The Constitution recognizes the Russian language as the state language, and consequently, “all remaining languages and cultures of Russia re in a situation of natural and inevitable discrimination … because they are forced to study Russian in addition to their native language … [in order to] avoid discrimination in other spheres of life.”
“As a result of the natural order of things,” Kornyev says, “’everything ethnic Russian’ in Russia is (and must be) ‘at the center,’ and ‘everything non-ethnic Russia just as necessarily is (and must be) at ‘periphery’ and ‘exotic.’”
In fact, he argues, “Russia is not ‘Multi-national,’” however much some insist upon that idea, but rather ‘a country of ethnic Russians and the Russified.’” That means that “’citizens of Russia’ are ethnic Russians by origin and those who unite with them into a unified civic nation, into an ethnic Russian civic nation.”
“To this ‘ethnic Russian civic nation,’” he continues, “any Russian-language citizen of Russia who is loyal to the ethnic Russians and who ‘plays with ethnic Russians on one team.’” This does not diminish the rights of small peoples, Kornyev insists but rather represents “a formula for the only possible path of the construction of the nation.”
From this it follows, he suggests, that “to be a citizen of Russia in the full sense of the word, [individuals] must master ethnic Russian norms of behavior, ‘Russify’ themselves, and show respect to the civic majority, that is to the ethnic Russians,” something that some living within the Russian Federation have not done.
Indeed, “as a result of the mistaken conception” of Russia as a multi-national civic nation, Kornyev says, people from the North Caucasus and elsewhere have not had this clearly explained to them, and from that lack of an explanation have arisen “all the problems” that Russia now faces in ethnic relations.
According to this analyst, “ethnoses as integral groups can be ‘equally important’” only if they make an equal “contribution to the population, GDP and defense capability of the country.” In a democratic state, all this is even simply to understand because ethnic Russians bsides everything else are also a democratic majority.”
In that situation, democracy means Russian rule, and to be “for democracy means to be for the power of the ethnic Russians. To be against the power of the ethnic Russians means to be against democracy,” and “sooner or later” to have a regime like that of Saddam Hussein ruling over the country.
Thus, “even a tolerant conception of respect for minorities is in fact not a denial but a form of the same conception of ‘the Elder Brother,’” assuming of course that that nation is as Medvedev insists the Russian are kind and generous. “Therefore other peoples have nothing to fear from an ethnic Russian national statehood.”
Kornyev devotes a great deal of attention to the fact that Medvedev in his remarks talked about the Germans and about the status of Germans in Germany. After 1945, it did not come into anyone’s head to create “an FRG nation.” Instead, the German nation continued and continues, with ethnic membership primary and territory secondary.
This is not just a question of terminology, Kornyev insists. Rather it shows that the Germans continued to view the German nation as “the nucleus or center of the civic nation of the Federal Republic,” an arrangement the Moscow analyst argues “allowed the defeated Germany to so quickly restore itself and again become a leader.”
That raises a completely logical question, he says. “Who defeated whom in the Great Fatherland War if the Germans were permitted to built a multi-national Germany as a German national state and the Russians were not permitted to build Russia as an ethnic Russian national state?”
Now, Medvedev as a lawyer must know that having said A, B will follow. According to Kornyev, there are only two possibilities: autonomy for ethnic Russians within an ethno-federal state or “the reformation of “all of Russia (except perhaps the Caucasus) into a Russian national state, ‘a Russia for the Russians and those who are with [them] in one boat.’”
But of course there is a third possibility, and Kornyev hints at it himself. And that is this: if the ethnic Russians insist on making their country an ethnic Russian national state, it is possible and even likely that at least some of the more than 30 million non-ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation may decide that the only way to defend their rights is to seek independence.

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