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East European Perspectives: July 10, 2002

10 July 2002, Volume 4, Number 14

'WE THE PEOPLE' (Part 2)

By Ann E. Robertson

Permanent Population Problems

The communist legacy of population resettlement has combined with current civil unrest to raise problems in constituting the citizenry. All the new states contain people who do not "belong" there. Whether it is Russian entrepreneurs in Narva, retired Red Army officers in Riga, Russians in Almaty, or Albanians in Macedonia, the postcommunist states contain individuals and families who are not of the titular nationality and do not speak the titular language. If their resident state has an ethnic-based nationalism, minorities may agitate for cultural rights or be lured away by homeland nationalism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left some 25 million ethnic Russians distributed throughout the Near Abroad. Many had been induced by economic advantages to remote regions, and ethnic Russians disproportionately staffed the white-collar sectors of the Soviet republics. Russians managed the factories in Bishkek and the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. Leaders of the new states had to reconcile the economic need for Russians' continuing presence against the ethnic affirmative action demanded by many of their constituents. Populations deported under Joseph Stalin, such as the Crimean Tatars, are now returning home and demanding compensation and preferential treatment in housing and jobs.

Azerbaijan granted citizenship on a territorial, zero-sum basis. Everyone was granted citizenship, although most Armenians in Karabakh refused to accept it. Azerbaijan is now home to some 250,000 displaced persons. About 200,000 are ethnic Azeris who fled Armenia, the other 50,000 are Meshketian Turks whom Stalin deported in the 1940s but who have now returned. A 1998 law allows both groups to easily gain citizenship, but the Meshketians have been reluctant to naturalize due to Azerbaijan's mandatory military service regulations (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2001b).

Among the Soviet successor states, all adopted territorial criteria for constituting their initial citizenry, except for Estonia and Latvia. These two countries chose to restore citizenship to individuals and their descendants who held citizenship in the interwar state. As a result, thousands of Russians who had lived in these republics for decades -- about one-third of the entire population -- found themselves disenfranchised. A handful repatriated to Russia, some stubbornly clung to "Soviet" citizenship, others sought language training to meet the naturalization requirements, and most complained loudly. While ostensibly the reactivation of dormant laws, behind the legalistic veneer lie agendas to protect ethnic populations that fear being wiped out by Russia's strong presence.

With the exception of Turkmenistan, the states of the Near Abroad refused Moscow's request for dual-citizenship regimes for ethnic Russians. Their standards were much more relaxed, however, when it came to co-ethnics in other states. The Kazakhstan parliament passed laws and resettlement packages to encourage immigration by ethnic Kazakhs from other republics, as well as China, Mongolia, and Iran. While Kyrgyzstan offered citizenship to non-Kyrgyz, a Kyrgyz-first mindset was suggested by the government's decision in June 2000 to resettle Kyrgyz refugees from Afghanistan ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). Similarly, Armenia granted immediate citizenship to ethnic Armenian refugees from the war with Azerbaijan, while nonethnic Armenian refugees must complete the naturalization process (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2001a).

Overlapping or contradictory citizenship policies create difficult legal problems. For example, Armenian President Robert Kocharian may not actually have met the qualifications for his post. Azerbaijan granted citizenship to any individual within its borders, including ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Many refused, however, and took Armenian citizenship instead. Kocharian is from Karabakh, meaning he has automatic Azerbaijani citizenship, which would constitutionally disqualify him from the Armenian presidency (U.S. Department of Justice, 1998). In Russia, the Republic of Tatarstan insisted on promulgating its own citizenship law and bitterly complained that Russia's new passports no longer indicated the holder's nationality. Crimea briefly created its own citizenship, separate from Ukraine. There has also been discussion of new, multi-state citizenship institutions, specifically one for the Commonwealth of Independent States and one for the Russia-Belarus Union.

In the Balkans, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic went even further, using ethnic criteria to make territorial claims. His "Greater Serbia" campaign of uniting all Serbs in one state allowed him to claim title to Serb-dominant areas of neighboring states, including the Krajina, of Croatia and Republika Srpska of Bosnia. Milosevic created a cumbersome citizenship law requiring extensive documentation that the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, mostly non-Serbs displaced by Milosevic's wars, could not produce. History, according to Milosevic, gave Serbia the right to Kosovo, although the ethnic Albanian population there opted out of Yugoslav state life. Montenegro also increasingly sought to distance itself from Belgrade and strengthen a separate identity, adopting its own, separate citizenship in October 1999. The 2002 decision to change the country to "Serbia and Montenegro" further underscores the lack of a common identity ("The Washington Post," 25 March 2002.)

Bosnia has been unable to find a common, state-level identity and instead constitutes the population by ethnicity. Groups without a Dayton-created "entity" are effectively disenfranchised. Annex 4 of the Dayton peace accords identifies the constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the preamble, "Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as follows:..." (U.S. Department of State, 1995). This strange formulation suggests that "citizens" are some residual fifth category of people. The high representative enacted a temporary law on citizenship in December 1997 because parliament was unable to do so. Further undermining Bosnian citizenship, ethnic Croats in Bosnia can vote in elections in Croatia, and the Republika Srpska created a special citizenship regime with rump Yugoslavia in December 1997.

E Pluribus Unum
Multiculturalism is dead in these postcommunist states. Even states that were initially generous toward their nontitular populations have increasingly begun to favor the titular group. Diversity is evolving toward assimilation. Language policy is often the most blatant example. Multilingual signs are coming down, and Russian or Serbian words are being cleansed from dictionaries, airwaves, and place names. Frunze, Kirgizia, became Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Kazakhstan briefly became Kazakstan; and Kishinev, Moldavia, became Chisinau, Moldova. Russian-style patronymics were dropped in Estonia, while they were converted to local format in Azerbaijan.

Language policies are regularly used for political ends. In September 1989, Kyrgyzstan made Kyrgyz the sole state language. Despite an extensive education program, including "Let's Learn Kyrgyz" columns in Russian-language newspapers, the changeover has not been absolute. Russified Kyrgyz, in particular, have been slow to learn Kyrgyz. That fact provided President Askar Akaev with a convenient opportunity to ostracize his main political rival, Feliks Kulov. A stiff Kyrgyz-language proficiency exam was instituted for presidential candidates in 2000. Conveniently, Akaev was the only serious competitor to pass the test, and he won re-election handily (Khamidov, 2000). As ethnic Russians streamed out of Central Asia, the new states reconsidered their language laws to stem the exodus. Kyrgyzstan made Russian a second official language in May 2000, and Kazakhstan extended the deadline for switching to Kazakh. Trying to attract Central Asia's Slavic population, Uzbekistan is the only state of the region to have no language-proficiency requirement for citizenship. While Estonia and Latvia continue their drive toward mandatory usage of their titular languages, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled on 14 December 1999 that the government had not fulfilled its responsibility to promote Ukrainian. This prompted the 1 February 2000 "Measures to Enhance the Role of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language," which calls for increased Ukrainian-language use in schools and proficiency tests for state employees. Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, always the reactionary, reversed a Belarusian-first policy and has rarely been heard to use the language in public. In his oft-quoted phrase, "The only two languages in which great literature has been written are Russian and English." In May 1995, voters made Russian a state language again.

Bosnia is perhaps the most extreme example of this trend toward provincialism. The 1993 language law defines the state language as "Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian," but usage is highly localized and differentiated. Serbs in Republika Srpska use Serbian, written in Cyrillic. Croats in the Bosnian-Croat federation use Croatian, written in Latin. Bosniacs in the federation use Bosnian, claiming it is the oldest language; Serbian and Croatian are merely variations. Montenegrins have adopted a different tact, claiming that their language is not Serbian, but simply "ours."

History May Harm More Than Help
For all the talk of "regaining" independence, a dearth of experience with sovereignty does not seem to greatly handicap a new state. If nothing else, history can be dug up. In Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, the governments have sponsored archaeological expeditions to discover the ancient roots of their peoples.

Selective memory is not uncommon when examining a nation's past. Islam Karimov has celebrated two Uzbek national heroes: Tamerlane (Timur) and Sharaf Rashidov. He has overseen the rehabilitation of Rashidov, his political patron, after the leader was disgraced in the Cotton Affair of the Brezhnev era, erecting a statue of Rashidov over the ex-leader's vacant grave and renaming a main street in Tashkent in his honor (Carlisle, 1995). In Soviet historiography, Tamerlane was "depicted as a bloodthirsty tyrant and it was almost impossible to carry out any serious research on his reign" (Akiner, 1997, p. 389). Now Tamerlane's penchant for building towers of human skulls is overlooked, and instead he appears on horseback under the motto, "My Strength is in Justice" ("Los Angeles Times," 25 December 1996). Despite Kyrgyzstan's stagnant economy, President Askar Akaev orchestrated multimillion-dollar celebrations of the Manas epic and the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Osh, conveniently overlooking scholarly studies suggesting that neither the epic nor the city could claim such long histories.

Independence also brings the opportunity to reinterpret the past. Kyrgyzstan's national holidays reflect its confused view of its past. In 2001, two Soviet holidays, 23 February and 7 November, were reinstated with the explanation that "the Kyrgyz people have every reason to be grateful to the Bolsheviks for ending the genocidal policy embarked upon by Tsarist Russia" (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). Bishkek is also one of the few post-Soviet cities to still have Lenin towering over its main square. The state parliament passed a law protecting Lenin statues because of this "special relationship" between him and the Kyrgyz people, (see "Der Spiegel," 23 October 2000).

Russia faced the quite literal need to bury the past. The debate over removing and burying Lenin aptly summarizes Russia's ongoing identity conflict. How much of the Soviet legacy should be saved? Throughout the 1990s, Yeltsin's attempts to remove the Soviet icon were blocked by the Communist-dominated State Duma. Calls for burial were loudest when the Communists seemed weakest -- after the August 1991 putsch and after the October 1993 battle against parliament. On 7 October 1993, Yeltsin removed the mausoleum's honor guard, replacing it with a police detachment. In 1997, Yeltsin called for a referendum on the question, prompting the State Duma to pass a law forbidding the destruction of any Red Square historical sites. In 2001, Vladimir Putin announced that Lenin would remain where he is, a stance welcomed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. In Putin's words, "Many people tie their own life to Lenin's name. For them, Lenin's burial will mean that they worshipped the wrong values, set themselves the wrong tasks, and that they lived their lives in vain" (Interfax 18 July 2001).

Meanwhile, Russia was able to successfully resolve another blank spot in Soviet history by addressing the burial of the Romanovs executed in the early days of Bolshevik rule. After a prolonged battle over positive identification of remains removed from a common grave in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Nicholas II, his family, and the retainers executed along with them were interred in the cathedral at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg on 17 July 1998, 80 years after they faced the firing squad. Even the ceremony became a political football, with Yeltsin and other dignitaries vacillating over whether to attend. At the last minute, Yeltsin appeared and delivered a moving speech calling the burial "an act of human justice, a symbol of unification in Russia, and redemption of common guilt" (Englund, 1998; Robertson 1996).

Newly democratizing states may overlook episodes of authoritarianism in their past. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania proudly recalled their interwar independence but spent less time discussing their leaders' eventual turn toward authoritarianism. During World War II, the Nazis backed the creation of an independent Croatia and Slovakia. The memory of those puppet states provides a mixed legacy to postcommunist Croatia and Slovakia. Seeking to bridge the gap between past and present, Franjo Tudjman's innovative "national reconciliation" policy aimed to mend the rift between former partisans and former collaborators and create a pan-Croatian state (Cohen, 1997, p. 76). Tudjman's historical revisionism further antagonized Serbs, particularly when he made public statements revising downward the number of Serbs killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II.

Not a newly democratizing state, Belarus is now officially ignoring a key episode of Soviet violence against the Belarusian people. Between 1937 and 1941, the NKVD slaughtered some 300,000 Belarusians, but this episode received relatively little attention until the mid-1980s (Markus, 1996; Zaprudnik and Urban, 1997). During the glasnost era, Kuropaty forest, burial site of Stalin's victims, became a focal point for the emerging Belarusian National Front, and its symbolic importance increased during the 1990s. Lukashenka's opponents associated Kuropaty with democracy and openness, particularly after U.S. President Bill Clinton dedicated a small memorial there in 1994. Lukashenka himself, like Tudjman, complained that casualty levels were exaggerated. The monument eventually was destroyed in the summer of 2001, as a united opposition campaign against Lukashenka gained steam ("The Washington Post," 16 January 1994; "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2001). With that overnight event, opposition forces lost a key point of historical reference.

History may even prove a burden if states cannot reconcile it with their future. Slovenia's relative success may be partly attributed to the fact that it has no recent experience with statehood. Its last experience with self-rule was over 1,400 years ago. According to University of Ljubljana economist Joze Menczinger, "The advantage of Slovenians is that we've had no glorious history, which is the problem of the rest of Yugoslavians" (quoted in "The Christian Science Monitor," 10 December 1992).

Moldova's history is divided between Romania and Russia. In 1940, Bessarabia, present-day Moldova, was annexed by Moscow as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After declaring independence from Moscow, citizens wasted several years debating whether to annex themselves to Romania or not. Independent Moldova adopted the Romanian flag as its own and even briefly used the Romanian national anthem. By the time its leaders decided to go it alone, valuable years of state-building possibilities had passed. Decisions to switch the school curriculum from "History of the Romanians" to "History of Moldova" can send thousands of protestors into the streets. Russia similarly faced an identity crisis as it could not reconcile its current, post-Soviet borders with either the Soviet or the Imperial versions of its history. State building was delayed by discussion of civic versus territorial interpretations of who Russians are.

Taken together, a history of statehood does not predispose a state to adopt a particular form of nationalism. Estonia, Latvia, and Croatia have adopted ethnic nationalism, while Lithuania, Russia, and Azerbaijan have more inclusive, civic-based policies. Past statehood can, however, provide a fa�ade of legitimacy for a discriminatory regime, by invoking historical standards. Tallinn and Riga may claim legal precedent for their citizenship policies, but that does not hide the discriminatory intent of the legislation. History, it seems, does not matter. It can be selectively used or completely invented. New states thus seem to start with a level playing field after all.

Nations are defined not only by their common past but also by their common future. The post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states are staking their future on continuing and strengthening the titular nation. Minority groups may see themselves being written out of state histories and shut out of daily life by language laws. Often their loyalties are ultimately decided by their pocketbook, not their hearts. Russians may decide to learn Estonian to stay in a state more prosperous than their homeland. They may opt to move from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, rather than trying to start over as immigrants to Russia. Macedonia is the exception to this rule. Following ethnic conflict in 2001, the government is working to upgrade the status of ethnic Albanians to parity with ethnic Macedonians.

This apparently grim picture should be tempered by the experience of other new states. It is easy to forget that the United States still is a relatively new country and Americans are an even newer nation. Until Reconstruction, if not later, U.S. citizens identified more with their locality than with a central government. The Civil War was fought with state-organized militias, and state-based currencies dominated until the National Banking Acts of the 1860s. In many respects, the "American man" was only born with the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln sought to create an organic United States of America from the disparate collection of states (Livingston, 1998).

The symbols brought out to celebrate American-ness also are of fairly recent origin and are still contested. Kazakhstan's president could certainly point out that Washington, D.C., is the third U.S. capital, carved out of a swamp because it was neutral territory. The "Pledge of Allegiance" dates to 1891, and the flag was only standardized when its mass production began in 1847. The "Star-Spangled Banner" was not official until 1931, and people still claim it should be scrapped in favor of "God Bless America," a song written by a Russian Jew and currently sung by a French Canadian. Americans still disagree about bilingualism, multiculturalism, the proper use of the Confederate flag, Native American names used for sports teams, affirmative action, and other nationality issues. The events of 11 September forced us to reconsider who is an "American." Rather than celebrating the diversity of this country's inhabitants, the tendency to define "American" as English-speaking WASPs became stronger. Individuals who "looked" Middle Eastern, bore "foreign-sounding" names, or wore "different" clothing faced hostility ranging from the subtle to the overt. Immigration controls tightened to keep out the undesirable, now defined as any Muslim male student recently arrived from the Middle East. If Americans still face a degree of identity crisis after more than two centuries, then how can we fault states of much more recent provenance?

(The author is managing editor of "Problems of Post-Communism" and adjunct professor of international relations at the George Washington University.)


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