Saturday, February 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Fewer than Half of Russian Citizens Identify as ‘Rossiyane,’ Regional Development Ministry Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – Fewer than half of the citizens of the Russian Federation now identify themselves as “Rossiyane,” the official term, preferring instead ethnic and religious groupings, and as a result, Moscow is considering two new programs to boost the preferred non-ethnic and non-religious identification in the future.

            At present, the Regional Development Ministry says that only 44 percent of Russian citizens identify themselves as “Rossiyane,” an unsatisfactory situation from Moscow’s point of view that has prompted that ministry to come up with two possible programs to increase that number (

            The less expensive variant, one that would cost 36.6 billion rubles (1.2 billion US dollars), would plan to increase the level of “Rossiyane” identification to 64 percent by 2018. The more expensive one, costing 124.6 billion rubles (4 billion US dollars), would seek to increase that share to 86 percent.

            In both cases, five federal administrations – the Regional Development Ministry, the Education and Science Ministry, the Culture Ministry, the State Construction Administration (Gosstroy), and the Russian Committee on Youth (Rosmolodezh)  -- will share in these funds but carry out separate programs.

            The Regional Development Ministry also reported that its surveys have found that “only 45 percent [of the Russian population] is satisfied with the realization of its own ethno-cultural rights” and that 62 percent say they would support limiting the influx of representatives “of certain other nationalities” into the regions in which they live.

            In reporting these plans, Vladimir Titov and Aleksandr Gazov of “Osobaya bukhva” express skepticism about the entire enterprise.  “Experts from the government should remember that nations are not born by the stroke of a pen. And even lengthy periods of living on a common territory, having a common legal field, and using a common state language sometimes will be insufficient to make people feel themselves a single whole.”

            After all, the two journalists note, “even neighbors living for decades in a communal apartment do not become a single family just because they have cooked borsch on a single stove.”   Rather more is required.

            “A nation is created by common values and achievements,” the two argue. Often “a decisive role in the genesis of a nation is played by war or a series of wars or lengthy armed confrontation.” Those experiencing such things share a common sense of sacrifice, a common victory or defeat, and often a common goal of revenge.

            “No one would begin to dispute that the Soviet people [“sovetsky narod”] was not simply a collection of the citizens of the USSR but a people which recognized its unity and differences from others,” in many ways because of its struggle and victory in World War II. “The cult of May 9 genuinely has quasi-religious aspects.”

            But even in this case, Titov and Gazov say, “the Soviet people did not become a full-blown nation, as the events of the end of the last century provide evidence.” And they point out that it is a common set of values rather than just experiences that is the basis for the formation of a nation.

            Moreover, they note, different nations have different values on a whole range of issues. Some value being able to defend themselves above anything else, while others put freedom in first place. “In some cases, the unit is the individual while elsewhere it is the tribe or extended family.” And “some nations are more inclined to expansion while others back their uniqueness.”

            Will it be possible to create such a nation out of the citizens of the Russian Federation? “Perhaps, pride for the most expensive winter Olympics in the sub-tropics? Or we can take pride in victory over great and powerful Georgia in 2008? … [Or perhaps it will be achieved by] censorship of the internet.

            Aleksandr Zhukov, a historian and commentator, is equally dismissive of the Russian government’s current plans: “The Russian nation does not exist and therefore strengthening its unity does not have any meaning,” he tells “Osobaya bukhva.” Instead, what is taking place in Russia is a continuation of “the process of heightened nationalization of individual republics.”

            Given that, Zhukov continues, “how is it possible in general to speak about the formation of a single Russian nation [“natsiya”]?” If this is going to happen, “the most important role will belong to the state” but that state will have to overcome its unwillingness to focus on the reality that such a nation can only be formed on the basis of the ethnic Russian nation.

            But were the Russian government to do so, the historian says, it is almost impossible to imagine how it could proceed without taking steps that the non-Russians living in the country would find a threat to their identities.  Given that reality, Zhukov concludes, it will be “impossible” to construct such an identity, at least anytime in the near future.

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