Thursday, February 10, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russians Unhappy about Proposed Use of Term ‘Rossiyane’

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 10 – The Kremlin’s plan to promote the term “Rossiyane” to define the national identity of the citizens of the Russian Federation is already drawing fire from Tatar analysts and activists, an indication that non-ethnic Russians are just as opposed to its introduction as are many ethnic Russian nationalists.
For both ethnic Russian nationalists and non-Russians, President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to push “Rossiyane” as a collective term for all citizens of the Russian Federation represents a threat to their position. For ethnic Russians, it calls into question the Russianness of the state; and for non-Russians, it suggest they may be submerged in a larger entity.
Over the past several weeks as details of Moscow’s program in this area have seeped out, Russian nationalists have attacked it repeatedly in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere. But non-Russian opposition, while in evidence at the regional level, has been less vocal.
Now, the Regnum news agency has surveyed the opinions of a group of analysts and activists in Tatarstan, the titular republic of the largest non-Russian nationality in the country and often a bellwether of the direction that other non-Russians will take on important on this as well as on other issues (
According to various Moscow newspapers, Medvedev decided on this step which may be taken even today in order to fill “the ideological vacuum” which was created after the end of the USSR and which has “begun to be filled by ethnic nationalism” among various ethnic groups, Russia and non-Russian alike.
In the future, if this plan is carried through as various commentators suggest it will be, “soon residents of Russia perhaps will be proposed to respond to the question of national membership with the word ‘Rossiyane,’” a term that refers not to the ethnic dimension of identity but to membership in a non-ethnic civic nation.
According to these reports, Regnum says, Russian citizens will be encouraged to “call themselves Rossiyane and if they desire to add, for example, a ‘Rossiyanin of Tatar origin,” a formulation that will strike many people as strange or even as a threat to their national self-identifications.
Vladimir Belyayev, a professor of politics, sociology and management at Kazan State Technical University told Regnum that “both in the Russian system of education and in the mass media is maintained the understanding of the nation as an ethnos,” thus making the proposed formulation a rather radical departure.
And because that is the case, “if a sharp change in the treatment of the definition of the nation will be adopted, many will thing that the powers are insisting on assimilation, the swallowing up of all peoples by one and nothing good will happen beyond the forming up of various Russian peoples around [ethnic Russian] ultra-nationalists.”
Because of that probability, Belyayev added, he is certain that this is “an ill-timed initiative of the state which will only further divide our peoples.”
Larisa Usmanova, a sociologist at the Kazan Federal University agreed, arguing that “one must not insist on an identity crudely and artificially.” Instead, the entire process must be gradual. “In the USSR, the formation among children of the idea about their being part of the civic nation ‘the Soviet people’ began with kindergarten” and was developed thereafter.
At the same time, she said, that “to return, as certain nationally concerned politicians have proposed to the listing of ethno-national identity in documents is impermissible,” as that too would exacerbate inter-ethnic feelings.
Guzel Makarova, a scholar at the Kazan Center of Ethno-sociological Research of the Tatarstan Republic Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History, added, that “undoubtedly, ‘civic identity among residents of Russia ought to be in the first place’ but that ‘for many, the word ‘Rossiyanin’ is conflated with the word ‘[ethnic] Russian.’” And that creates problems.
It is radically “incorrect” to assert that “Russia is ‘an Orthodox [ethnic] Russian country,’ and that Tatarstan is ‘a Tatar Muslim republic.’ When the large and small motherlands are identified with religious or national factors, this leads to a loss of civic identity.” And that in turn threatens further divisions and conflicts.
Rafael Khakimov, the director of the Tatarstan Institute of History, noted that “the [ethnic] Russians were the first to speak out against the domination of the rossiyane identity.” As for himself, Khakimov said, he was “not against the idea that residents of Russia should have a civic identity.”
“But,” he continued, it is necessary to understand that this is [part of] the European tradition of nation building” which has not been part of the Russian experience.
Aleksandr Salagayev, the president of the Society of Russian Culture Society of the Republic of Tatarstan, agreed with Khakimov, noting that he is “against ‘rossiyantsvo’ under the condition of the absence of the Russians of their own ethno-cultural structures and centers of responsibility for Russian language and culture.”
DamirIskhakov, the director of the Center of Ethnopolitical Monitoring of the World Congress of Tatars, said that “it is possible to be a good Rossiyanin and a bad Tatar at one and the same time.” He suggested that the new idea could share “the fate of ‘the Soviet people,” thus promoting divisions and tensions rather than overcoming them.
Others in Tatarstan agreed, including Yevgeny Ivanov, the leader of the independent Kryashen youth movement, Ruslan Aysin, the chairman of the World Forum of Tatar Youth Movement, Bulat Shageyev, a member of the socialist wing of the Tatar youth movement, and Nail Nabiullin, the leader of Azatlyk.
But perhaps the most damning comment came from Rafik Karimullin, a Tatar activist, who suggested that “the new initiative of the Kremlin ideologues will become ‘an extension of the policy of the USSR’” in putting pressure on all peoples of the country in violation of the Constitution and international norms.
Such an approach, he said, “will lead to the moral degradation not only of the non-Russian peoples but also of the [ethnic] Russian. And the very combination of words, ‘a Rossiyanin of Tatar origin,’ [that Medvedev and Moscow now want to use] will sound stupid and funny.”

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