A Small but Significant Sign the Russian Federation is Coming Apart

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Small but Significant Sign the Russian Federation is Coming Apart

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 5 – Almost 60 years ago, the great Russian émigré scholar I.A. Kurganov published his book, “The Nations of the USSR and the Russian Question,” in which he argued that the fate of that country depended less on what the non-Russians did than on how the ethnic Russians reacted.

That insight is fundamental to an understanding of why the USSR came apart as it did and to a recognition of the forces that threaten to tear apart its successor empire, the Russian Federation.  Those forces are now on display in a letter to a Duma deputy in Voronezh asking that Russians be declared “the state-forming people” of that oblast.

If their request is granted, it could lead to similar requests in other predominantly ethnic Russian regions of the country, sparking not only more efforts by non-Russian republics that do not now declare their titular nationality “state-forming” but also a drive to insert in the country’s constitution that ethnic Russians are the “state-forming” nation of the country as a whole.

And such an ethnicization of the political formations within the borders of the Russian Federation, a trend that the less than careful comments of Vladimir Putin and others have encouraged, could recreate some of the same pressures that undermined and ultimately destroyed the USSR a generation ago.

At the very least, it would lead to heightened ethnic sensitivities and greater tensions among majority and minority peoples within particular federal subjects and the country as a whole and create a situation in which stability could be maintained and then only for a time by ever-greater repression.

The Voronezh case is fascinating in and of itself.  Regional branches of the National Democratic Party, the Guild of Analytic Journalists and the Union of Journalists of Russia have published an open letter to their Duma deputy Arkady Ponomaryev in an oblast newspaper (4pera.ru/news/picture_of_the_day/russkie_natsionalisty_voronezha_obratilis_k_molochnomu_oligarkhu/  and nazaccent.ru/content/17093-v-voronezhe-potrebovali-zakrepit-za-russkimi.html).

The authors begin by asserting that their region has seen “terrible things” in recent times, including a rise in ethnic crime directed against Russians and the exploitation of ethnic divisions by the authorities as a means of keeping everyone in check. That must end, the three groups argue.

“In our view,” they say, “the Russian question on the territory of Voronezh Oblasst requires an immediate decision, but precisely the Russian people’s lack of the status of legal subject on the territory of the region makes possible the appearance of multi-national lawlessness.”

According to the letter, “the nearest [ethnic] Russian statehood, as is well known is in china where there exists the Enhue-Russian national district.”

Moreover, the letter complains, anyone “who begins to speak within the country about the rights of Russians will be suspected of extremism. The demand to reflect the Russian character of Russia in the Constitution has led to accusations of working toward the collapse of the country, despite the fact that the majority of the republics in Russia … include their Basic laws a reference to the titular in quotes peoples – and the defense of their rights.”

All we are asking for, the Russian writers say, is that the Duma deputy begin the process of amending the charter of Voronezh oblast so that it will define “the legal status of the Russian people as region-forming just like has already been done in Komi, Tatarstan, and Karelia towards the Komis, Tatars, and Karelians.”

Posted by paul goble at 3:43 AM


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