Friday, June 3, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia Needs a Centralized Nationalities Policy and a Ministry to Carry It Out, Deputies Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 3 – The Russian government needs to adopt a nationalities policy for the country as a whole and to establish a special ministry to implement it, several Duma deputies say, pointing not only to the increasing number of ethnic conflicts around the country but also to the increasing and potentially dangerous tendency of the regions to go their own way in this area.

According to the portal, “local officials are hostages to a situation [in which ethnic conflicts are on the rise] and are forced to balance between the danger of accusations of xenophobia and support of nationalities on the one hand, and the danger of a new Kondopoga or Manezh, on the other (

And their situation is becoming ever more problematic, the portal observes, because “the federal center as before is limiting itself to declarative language about the impermissibility of allowing the growth of xenophobic attitudes without offering any concrete decisions.” As a result, “local officials are trying to independently find ways of resolving this problem.”

As it often does on key issues, the portal has surveyed Russian parliamentarians concerning what should be done, and the ones with whom spoke, unanimously backed the idea of “creating in Russia a state organ which would occupy itself with the resolution of questions of nationality policy” rather than ceding power on this to the regions.

Vladimir Gusev, who represents Saratov oblast in the Federation Council, said that the time has come for the government to take up the question of inter-ethnic relations seriously and to create what does not now exist, a clearly defined nationality policy and a central bureaucracy to implement it.

In his view, “a multi-national country without a ministry for nationalities is nonsense.” He said that it was not important what this “organ” should be called, “a ministry, a committee, or a commission.” Rather, “the main thing, Gusev continued, “as is well known is not the form but its content.”

Amir Gallyamov, who represents the Amur oblast in the Federation Council, agreed. “Russia simply needs such an organization.” Without it, youth movements of a radical direction are growing stronger, some of which act against Muslims, others against Orthodox, a third against Russians, a fourth against Jews and so on.”

Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, a United Russia Duma deputy, also supported the idea of creating “a special government organ for nationality policy.” “Such a structure,” he said, existed in Soviet times and was headed in the early years by Joseph Stalin. A new Narkomnats is needed, he said, because the regional development ministry isn’t capable of resolving” all these issues.

Yury Afonin, a KPRF Duma deputy, added his support for such an agency, pointedly noting that “in questions of nationality policy, there is no place for independent activity at the regional level.” These questions “must be dealt with by a corresponding agency in the system of state power” and at the direction of the chief of state.

And Viktor Shudegov, a Just Russia Duma deputy, seconded that view. He said that the time had come to decide on a Russia-wide nationality policy and to set up an institution to ensure it is carried out. “Such agencies already exist at the regional level in a number of Russian Federation subjects, including in Udmurtiya which [he] represents.”

“Somehow or other,” he continued, “certain representatives of our power consider that if there is no federal ministry on nationality questions, then this means that there is no problem in this sphere.” But problems obviously do exist, Shudegov said, and they will continue until a policy is defined and an agency in Moscow set up.

Since Vladimir Putin disbanded the post-Soviet Russian ministry of nationalities a decade ago, there have been period calls for restoring it, but most of them have come now from politicians at the center worried about controlling the periphery but rather from non-Russians who believe such an institution would help them.

That makes this shift potentially significant, although there is a major hurtle to setting up such a ministry that none of these parliamentarians addressed: If such a body is given enough power to implement a nationalities policy, it will be a super-ministry and a threat to all others, but if it is not given such powers, it will simply become yet another bureaucratic structure.

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