Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Without the Formation of a Common Identity for Its Citizens, Russia has No Future,’ Markedonov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 14 – Even more than the modernization of the economy, the Russian Federation needs a modernization of nationality policy, one that will promote a common identity for all its citizens because if that does not happen, a leading Russian specialist on ethnic issues says, “Russia has no future.”
In a comment published in “Gazeta.ru” today, Sergey Markedonov, one of Russia’s most thoughtful commentators on ethnic conflicts, says that Moscow officials must stop thinking of nationality policy as a matter of folklore and ethnography and realize that it is about the fate of the country as a whole (www.gazeta.ru/comments/2010/12/13_x_3463345.shtml).
Indeed, Markedonov begins, as the recent clashes in the Manezh and around the Russian Federation, show, “there is no other path for the struggle with xenophobia,. Ethnic criminality, closed migrant communities and pogroms besides the formation of a single non-ethnic Russian political-civil nation.”
And “if one turns aside from extreme assessments [of the last few days] 0beginning with alarmist declarations about the approaching collapse of Russian and ending with calls for the introduction [into the Russian Federation] of the norms of apartheid),” several more reasonable and important conclusions can now be drawn.
On the one hand, Markedonov says, each of the clashes in Russia has “its own unique history,” in which many factors are at work. But “the presence on various sides of the barricades of representatives of various ethnic groups forces one to reflect about how much xenophobia, intolerance and hatred can be reduced to everyday problems,” as officials are inclined to do.
As Starvropol Governor Valery Gayevsky observed after clashes in his kray, “160 individual young people cannot have personal antipathy to one another.” Thus, ignoring ethnic or religious factors, as many are inclined to do is a self-delusion. What is happening, Gayevsky continued, is thus “a systemic problem.”
But on the other hand, “with the help of the Internet and the blogosphere in particular, even those events which are not considered from the start as inter-ethnic clashes begin to be interpreted as a manifestation of the much-talked about ‘nationality question’” and thus become ethnic clashes in the minds of both participants and others not directly connected to them.
Moreover, he continues, “the more the powers that be refuse to discuss such a delicate question as the nationality one and attempted to ‘shut up’ the issue in a banal fashion, the more extravagant (and extremist) the interpretations that appear [on the Internet] will become.” That has led some to conclude Moscow should suppress the net but that would be counterproductive.

“The ‘nationality question’ should not be avoided or blocked,” Markedonov says, adding that “in general it is time to stop relating to it as some kind of unexplained phenomenon which cannot be rationally understood.” In fact, as the experience of other countries has shown, it can be understood, responded to, and its negative political impact overcome.
Consequently, “the ethnic excesses which are multiplying in Russia from day to day, do not mean that everything is a matter of fate and that the country is moving toward disintegration.” There are things that can be done, the Russian analyst says, and there are even reasons for a certain optimism that Moscow can count on some positive developments.
For example, he notes that young people from the North Caucasus, who are often denounced as disloyal or worse are “much less likely” to seek to avoid service in the Russian Army than are ethnic Russians “from the central regions of the country.” And that pattern suggests that integration is possible.
But that will require facing the facts on the ground and coming up with a serious nationality policy. “If the powers that be tell us about modernization, then they must not limit this process to the creation of a contemporary economic basis. The modernization of nationality policy is needed as well.”
“Without the formation of a common identity for the citizens of the country, no contemporary technical means will give [Rusisans] a path to the future.” Moreover, unless there is a serious nationality policy, “various national projects” will fill “the vacuum,” projects that will not leave any place for “Russia as a state of all [non-ethnic] Russians.”
Unfortunately, at the present time, many officials generally define nationality policy for the Russian Federation as “a folklore-ethnographic and ethno-centric policy,” one that involves staging national days or dressing up in ethnic dress. But that is not a genuine nationality policy, Markedonov says.
“At a higher level,” of course, “nationality policy is a system of measures directed at the creation of preferences for ethnic groups, the definition of who, who and where are ‘titular’ and ‘indigenous’ nations” and at the same time, a decision about which people are not titular, not indigenous and thus subject to the others.
And Markedonov points out that nationality policy involves issues like registration, which often defines who is a native and who is not and support for rural populations both to ensure agricultural production and limit migration flows. At present, few people think these are part of nationality policy, he says, but it is clear that they should be.
“Consequently,” he says, “a modernized nationality policy must be constructed around the idea of ‘a civic nation,’ that is around a political identity and not around ‘the principle of blood.’ Such an approach in no way denies ethnic attachments.” Instead, it puts these identities in the framework of a larger supra-ethnic identity.
Those who don’t want to have Caucasians as neighbors or who want to live in “purely Russian cities” must then “recognize the North Caucasus as a territory outside of Russian jurisdiction.” But even allowing that region to go its own way will not put an end to ethnic tensions or xenophobia.
Only a serious nationality policy designed to create a common “civic” national identity has a change of working, “and the sooner [Russians] move away from the language of the policy marked out already by the first peoples commissar for nationalities [Stalin], the sooner [Russians] will cease to have a sense that ‘a second Beloveshchaya’ is approaching.

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