Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Citizens Try to Bridge the Gap between Ethnic and Civic Identities

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 7 – One of the deepest social and political divides in the Russian Federation is between those who identify themselves as ethnic Russians and believe that country should become a Russia for the Russians and those who define themselves as civic Russians either because they are not ethnically Russian or because they embrace a broader civic vision.
Last Friday in Moscow’s President Hotel, leaders of these two trends met to discuss whether they could “cross the line which divides” them – “extreme nationalism and hatred of ‘aliens,’” on the one hand, and “the withering away of the national identity of Russian [‘russkiye’] citizens” (www.apn.ru/opinions/article21506.htm).
The session has unusual sponsors for an event like this – the Russian Social Movement and the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of the Azerbaijanis of Russia – and it both attracted a remarkable mix of people on both sides of this “line” and sparked a lively debate between the ethnic Russians (“russkiye’) and the civic Russians (”rossiyane”).
The ethnic Russian side was represented by journalist I.A. Boikov, V.L. Kraynin of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), K.A. Krylov of the Russian Social Movement, V.S. Parkhomenko, a spokesman for the Terek Cossacks, journalist A.V. Samovarov, editor Sergey Sergeyev, and N.L. Khomogorov of the Anti-Russophobe League.
The civic or non-ethnic Russian side was represented by the leaders of various national cultural autonomies, national movements operating inside the Russian Federation, Duma deputies, urban and regional officials, and Social Chamber members, as well as officers of various political parties, religious groups, and social organizations.
At the end of the session, the participants drafted a set of eight recommendations which they suggested should be the basis for further discussion and refinement, and because of the potential political importance of any accord between those most commentators have suggested are increasingly at daggers drawn, a summary of them is given below.
First, the two sides supported the creation and registration of a social organization that would continue to discuss relations between ethnic Russians and others. Second, they pledged to seek the elimination of any restrictions on any restrictions, legal or otherwise, to “the objective treatment in the media and the free discussion of problems” involving ethnic relations.
Third, national problems, including those of the Russian people, need regular and public discussion at the highest levels of the state with those the various groups select rather than people appointed by the regime. Fourth, all restrictions on ethnic Russian groups need to be removed so that they are not driven into “’the shadow sector of politics,’ including an armed underground.”
Fifth, the sides continued in their joint recommendations, existing Russian legislation laws must be changed so that people may form political parties on an ethnic basis and so that ethnic Russians can form their own national cultural autonomies in areas where they are a minority.
Sixth, they said that “it is necessary to struggle with manifestations of localism and regional groups in the army, universities, and the administrative system in Russia, particularly in its national-territorial subjects. Seventh, they calls for new laws to regulate migration and to prevent illegal immigration “which is having an extremely negative impact” on the country.
And eighth, they agreed that it is important to maintain and strengthen the Russian “cultural-linguistic space which had unified all peoples of the former Soviet Union” and that the government must take the lead in doing so not only within the Russian Federation, which itself is multi-national, but in the other post-Soviet states as well.
“The collapse of [the USSR],” they concluded, “had given one important plus: we all recognize the value of one another and understand that in this world we as flourishing states aren’t needed by either the West or the East,” a view the statement regretted was “not yet shared by all citizens of the Russian Federation.”
“We are,” the participants declared, “ready to make friends with and cooperate with all peoples who sincerely want peace and development. As Talleyrand said, good diplomacy does not produce enemies. Our struggle is not conducted ‘against’ (anyone’s rights and interests0 but only ‘for’ – for our own rights and interests.”
Meetings of this type in the Russian Federation are rare, and no one of them reflects all the views of both sides of this divide. Indeed, it is important to remember that the views expressed in this document more fully reflect the views of Russian nationalists and non-Russian diasporas than they do those of civic nationalists more generally.
But at the same time, this effort to reach across what has often been a gulf suggests that there are people on both sides who are now as they have not always been in the past prepared to discuss what might be done to build alliances, a trend that could provide an important support for civic peace at a time of increasing tensions.

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