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Russia

Rumblings In The Republics: New Russian Nationalities Policy Sparks Outcry

Cultural tug-of-war? Children at an inter-ethnic camp in Omsk, Russia
Cultural tug-of-war? Children at an inter-ethnic camp in Omsk, Russia
By Nail Khisamiev and Robert Coalson
A potentially explosive political kettle has been simmering in Russia for months, and it may well boil over in the weeks to come.

Shortly after his return to the Kremlin in May, President Vladimir Putin ordered the drafting of a new State Nationalities Policy.

The document, which was to be unveiled on December 1, sets guidelines for political, economic, and cultural policies affecting Russia's nearly 200 ethnic groups, and the drafting process has been followed closely by almost all of them, from Adyghe to Yakuts.

Drafting commission head Vyacheslav Mikhailov says the new policy aims to strengthen a single identity for the entire country, to develop its ethnic diversity, and to strength civic unity and interethnic harmony.

But critics charge that some of the ideas that emerged in the process, such as merging small ethnic republics with other regions, would lead to ethnic Russian domination and the erosion of the status of non-Russian nationalities.

"You have to be completely brainless to put forward such a strategy," Marat Kulsharipov, a historian and analyst based in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, says. "It is literally a bomb in Russia's basement."

Driving Principle

Critics in Russia's ethnic republics are also worried about a bill working its way through the State Duma that they say would diminish the status of local languages at the expense of Russian.

"This country can be saved, but that will take effort," says Indus Tahirov, a Kazan-based political analyst. "This is not an ethnically Russian country; it is a multiethnic country. This is not a Christian country; this is a multireligious country. They should understand that it is a federation giving equal rights to everyone. Only this kind of policy can save the country."

After strenuous protests from Tatarstan, overt calls for merging ethnic republics with other regions were removed from the draft, but critics say the ideology behind the idea still saturates the document. Tatarstan historian Rafael Mukhametdinov says you can see the real aim of the policy by looking closely at the language.

"The exposition of this strategy is very weak. The language is imprecise -- it seems to have been prepared very quickly, although when they are explaining the policies toward Russians, it becomes very accurate," Mukhametdinov says.

"It says there is a Russian nation and that it is compulsory to know the Russian language in Russia. As soon as it comes to non-Russians, the text becomes very complicated. It becomes hard to understand what they mean. I think this is done on purpose."

Doing Away With Ethnic Names

During the drafting of the nationalities policy, a number of related events occurred that many interpreted as efforts to inflame what is already a potentially explosive situation.

For example, the controversial language bill, which has passed its first reading in the Duma, would allow parents in ethnic republics to determine whether their children had to study native languages. Such a law could deal a serious blow to minority languages such as Tatar and Bashkir because Russia offers no higher-education opportunities in languages other than Russian and the state entrance exams for universities are given only in Russian.

Tatar activists protest the Russian State Duma's new draft language law in Kazan on December 1.
Tatar activists protest the Russian State Duma's new draft language law in Kazan on December 1.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker in Chechnya proposed merging all six North Caucasus republics into one entity with a nonethnic name such as the Mountain Republic.

Even more controversially, an academic in Daghestan named Abdul-Nasir Dibirov proposed renaming Bashkortostan (named for the Bashkir ethnic group) as the Ufa Republic and changing Tatarstan (named for the Tatars) into the Kazan Republic.

In comments to RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Dibirov argues that renaming the ethnic republics could be a "first step" in perfecting Russia's federal structure.

"The ethnic element of the names of republics makes sense only if the ethnic elites of those republics harbor the idea that someday they will have the chance to leave Russia and form independent countries -- an ethnic Tatar state or an ethnic Bashkir state or some other," Dibirov says. "If we want to perfect the federal structure of Russia, we must begin with some steps. And the first step shouldn't be the liquidation of those republics, but with changing their names."

Looming Backlash

In October, oligarch and former presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov went even further, giving a speech in which he criticized Russia's ethnic republics and called for constitutional amendments that would eliminate them.

Renat Zakirov, head of the World Congress of Tatars, has denounced the proposal as a threat to Russia's stability. "This person is itching to destroy the country," he charges. "The role of the ethnic republics in preserving the stability of the Russian Federation is enormous. This man seems to be opposed to that [stability]."

And earlier this month, a little-known think tank called Peterburgskaya Politika issued a report ranking Tatarstan as one of the least stable regions of the Russian Federation and saying that the commemoration of Tatarstan's Remembrance Day -- which marks the conquering of the Tatar state in 1552 by Ivan the Terrible -- is a "threat" to social and economic stability.

With the formal policy about to be unveiled, a backlash is brewing.

On December 1, demonstrations against the language bill, which is scheduled for a crucial second reading in the Duma on December 11, took place in Kazan and Ufa.

About 50 people attended an event organized by the Kuk Bure (Gray Wolf) youth movement in Ufa calling for the Bashkir language to be taught in schools. In Kazan, a rally organized by the Azatlik Tatar youth organization drew about 30 people. Demonstrators held posters with slogans like "If I don't have my language tomorrow, I'm dead today" and urging Tatarstan's parliament to support Tatar language education.

Activists from the Kuk Bure youth organization demonstrate in support of the Bashkir language in Ufa on December 1.
Activists from the Kuk Bure youth organization demonstrate in support of the Bashkir language in Ufa on December 1.

In the event that the Duma passes the bill, members of Tatarstan's regional parliament have proposed that representatives from ethnic republics hold a meeting in Kazan to come up with a unified counterstrategy.

And on December 6, the World Congress of Tatars will convene in Kazan. Founded in 1992, the congress has primarily been a sociocultural and spiritual body. But this year there have been numerous, insistent calls for it to become politically active and take up the issue of Russia's nationalities policy.

Bashkir historian Kulsharipov is among those who insist Russia's ethnic communities must reject the new policy statement. "This strategy cannot be accepted in our republics, since it is against our interests," he says. "They tried once to create a 'Soviet' ethnicity during the Soviet period. Now we are going back to that. Creating one Russian nation means that our ethnicities will be assimilated."

RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Service correspondent Alsu Kurmasheva contributed to this report

Robert Coalson

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jack from: US
November 30, 2012 18:48
"rumblings in the republics", "intense concern", etc, etc
Looks like US government propaganda outlet RFE/Rl is not missing on opportunity to incite hatred where there is none.

While US-propped Sunni dictatorship in Bahrain is torturing and killing Shia Muslims, and Saudi friends of Hillary Clinton chop heads off "infidels"
In Response

by: Ivan from: California
December 01, 2012 06:04
Jack, I am surprised you don't have a repetitive motion injury from typing the same tired drivel over and over and over. Don't you have any new material?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 01, 2012 14:42
It's interesting to see that while the RFE/RL keeps publishing "the same tired drivel over and over and over", you, Ivan, never had an idea of asking them whether they have "a repetitive motion injury".
In Response

by: Jack from: SU
December 02, 2012 11:34
Yes,Ivan,I got a new home video of my wedding to Eugenia,it will air on Russia Tomorrow on Dec.the 21st.,but its classified 24+.which means you must be over 24 years old to watch it.Fox News has bought the rights for North American distribution and will air it as a pay-per-view XXXmass special,so keep an eye on your TV guide!!!
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 04, 2012 08:10
But then again, Eugene, you and the other guys never cease to complain about the same old stuff. If you don't get tired, why should anyone else? It's all mudslinging fun, isn't it? After all, none of you has a clue about what really is happening in these places. :-)
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
December 01, 2012 11:25
The old divide and conquer strategy with a new twist, Russia has a lot of resources, why the hell not.
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 03, 2012 22:44
It is all the same, Jack and Eugenio - verbal spamming.
From sick head of Russia pin on consious heads of Tatars.
Inciting hate Russia, not non-Russians that were loyaly fighting
During just wars, like WW2. It is Russia that grabb its habbards
And ready to destroy again, like Golodomor cross of Ukrainians,
Or Kartyn cross of "Polaks" to expand and breed more Varaga.

Hillary might be mental proxy of Varaga-Prussia, Jack-Vanda,
But it isn't she tought Muslems cut-off heads, Russia-banda,
Spetcnaz of imperial resurrectors - trying to mortify nations,
Trained by Brits and Germs using also US bombobama.
Varag-Pruss promiss to Russians Stolypin's hangings
And to non-Russia nazi-like cleansing-gang-bangings.

Rephrasing an old Russian joke: "Zakon kak dyshlo,
Kuda Varaga-Prussaka-suka povernet, tuda i vyshlo."
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 10, 2012 23:43
By the way, recently the controled by Russians TV, "This",
(that I don't mind, USA is a country of many extractions)
Showed here, in USA, a "hevy metal" muisical tease.
A band from German Frankfurt with memoration
Of old loyaly to German Zars and squeeze.

To reinforce old loyalist of Imperial Prussia,
They excited by cacaphony and old songs,
Like "Volga, Muter Volga, belong to Russia"
That the German Czar family once learned,
They revisited Cossacks and Imperial flock.

Starting with Minsk, folded by a new empire,
To a degree they sending assassins to USA
Silence my free speech, several times tried
It on me and my mother - she passed away
With their help by lying nazis from Russ-CIA.

Than it was Peter's-burger, Ekaterina-burger,
Tumen', in Rostov they said "For the Russia",
Stavropol where Cossacks said "we brothers"
And "It is heart of Russia", 20.000 came there,
Krasnodar - "Cities open now (for Prussia)!"

Are non-Russian Cities also open for World -
All Caucasian race and Human Civilizations?
Or is it only for imperial resurrectors hords,
Fortifying rings of hate of Russia-Prussia,
Cossacs Sams and Gads, with Adygs?

For Tatars smell of stolen gas, by Muller,
For Caucasus occupants and cleansing.
Slaves from Asia, squeezed, by shullers.
For non-Russians, Russian repopulating.
For best of them - nerve gas in Anaverde.


by: Ben
December 01, 2012 17:26
All attempts to escape the main imperial problems of the multi-national Russia are in vain.The "opposition" is prepeared for the decisions even less than the authorities.

by: Jalmer Osmth from: USA
December 06, 2012 18:57
The official language of a nation is essential to all within its dominion. There are so many languages in the world and some have sadly disappeared. There should actually be college credits for all languages, Even though they may not be the National Language spoken in public, some will always be the language spoken in the privacy of home and family.

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