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Dear Russia Letter
Putin Addresses the National Question But Misses the Mark, Experts Said
Dan Peleschuk - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 1.23.12 - JRL 2012-11

In his article, published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on January 23 and titled "Self-Determination of the Russian People: A Multiethnic Civilization Sealed with a Russian Core," Putin dug deep into Russian history to argue the uniqueness of the Russian multinational experience. What's more, he downplayed the role of the American "melting pot" and criticized what he believes to be the failure of European multiculturalism ­ while noting the Russian way of recognizing nationalities yet maintaining central facets of Russian culture is the way of the country's future.

"The crisis of the 'nation state' model is itself responsible for the 'failure of the multicultural project' ­ of states that have historically been built exclusively on the basis of ethnic identity," Putin wrote. "And it is a challenge that will face not only Europe, but many other regions in the world."

Another major theme, however, seemed to be his assault on the burgeoning nationalist movement in Russia, which has gained visibility in recent years partly because of the Kremlin's own tacit approval of such ideology. Especially in the past year, Kremlin-controlled opposition parties, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party have stepped up their nationalist rhetoric and attracted greater support, albeit at the expense of Putin's own. And, moreover, the Kremlin has regularly sponsored nationalist projects, such as the Nashi or Young Guard youth groups, or Russian NATO envoy and nationalist firebrand Dmitry Rogozin's Rodina movement.

Now, the prime minister seems to be on the offensive against nationalism, which he argues would help unravel a historically multinational Russia. "I am deeply convinced that attempts to preach the idea of building a Russian 'national,' mono-ethnic state is contrary to the whole of our thousand-year history," he argued. "Moreover, it is the shortest path to the destruction of the Russian people and Russian statehood. And any viable, sovereign state on our land."

On the same token, however, Putin also noted the danger of overly pandering to individual ethnic groups and warned that all Russians should espouse a "civic patriotism" and conform to a "single cultural code." Using this basis, he discouraged the flourishing of national parties on a regional level, claiming they are a surefire path toward "separatism."

Experts noted that Putin is attempting to toe a fine line between preventing both Russian nationalism and anti-Russian nationalism ­ both of which have the potential to reach a boiling point. In reality, it is a deeply contradictory policy, according to analyst Nikolay Petrov, that seems more likely to stir further anti-Kremlin dissent than to stifle it. "If somebody will lead this country in the direction of secessionism, it is Putin, and it would be done by means of ignoring regional interests and trying to make all decisions at one and the same center," said Petrov, an expert at Moscow's Carnegie Center.

Unlike his previous platform article, published last week in the pro-government Izvestia, Putin outlined concrete strategies for overcoming the national question, which he claimed is a result of uneven economic development and social intolerance in today's Russia. Among them is a proposal to introduce a common cultural curriculum for universities across Russia, as well as to strengthen immigration policy to combat illegal immigration. Yet most curious, perhaps, was Putin's proposal to introduce a federal structure to tackle "national development and interethnic accord" ­ a function once overseen by the Ministry of Nationalities, but which has since fallen by the way side, according to Putin, since the Ministry of Regional Development took over the task.

But Petrov said he sees Putin's proposal for greater government oversight as more of a political Trojan horse than a social solution. "His view of fixing problems is strengthening the central state rather than the developing different models in different places," he said. "This article is a kind of refusal from any kind of federation."

Others agreed, pointing additionally to the vagueness of Putin's language as a sign of his poor comprehension of the national question. According to political analyst Ilya Konstantinov, the policy paper is pure campaign fodder. "This article leaves more questions than answers," he told Kommersant. "For example, Putin criticized the European policy of multiculturalism. He says that Russia has its own way, but what is it? It's not clear. He says there should be neither assimilation nor enclaves. But what should there be? Putin is putting forward a lot of fairly controversial ideas, but there remains no clear vision of how he sees the future of nationality policy."

Keywords: Russia, Government, Politics - Russia News - Russia

 

In his article, published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on January 23 and titled "Self-Determination of the Russian People: A Multiethnic Civilization Sealed with a Russian Core," Putin dug deep into Russian history to argue the uniqueness of the Russian multinational experience. What's more, he downplayed the role of the American "melting pot" and criticized what he believes to be the failure of European multiculturalism ­ while noting the Russian way of recognizing nationalities yet maintaining central facets of Russian culture is the way of the country's future.

"The crisis of the 'nation state' model is itself responsible for the 'failure of the multicultural project' ­ of states that have historically been built exclusively on the basis of ethnic identity," Putin wrote. "And it is a challenge that will face not only Europe, but many other regions in the world."

Another major theme, however, seemed to be his assault on the burgeoning nationalist movement in Russia, which has gained visibility in recent years partly because of the Kremlin's own tacit approval of such ideology. Especially in the past year, Kremlin-controlled opposition parties, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party have stepped up their nationalist rhetoric and attracted greater support, albeit at the expense of Putin's own. And, moreover, the Kremlin has regularly sponsored nationalist projects, such as the Nashi or Young Guard youth groups, or Russian NATO envoy and nationalist firebrand Dmitry Rogozin's Rodina movement.

Now, the prime minister seems to be on the offensive against nationalism, which he argues would help unravel a historically multinational Russia. "I am deeply convinced that attempts to preach the idea of building a Russian 'national,' mono-ethnic state is contrary to the whole of our thousand-year history," he argued. "Moreover, it is the shortest path to the destruction of the Russian people and Russian statehood. And any viable, sovereign state on our land."

On the same token, however, Putin also noted the danger of overly pandering to individual ethnic groups and warned that all Russians should espouse a "civic patriotism" and conform to a "single cultural code." Using this basis, he discouraged the flourishing of national parties on a regional level, claiming they are a surefire path toward "separatism."

Experts noted that Putin is attempting to toe a fine line between preventing both Russian nationalism and anti-Russian nationalism ­ both of which have the potential to reach a boiling point. In reality, it is a deeply contradictory policy, according to analyst Nikolay Petrov, that seems more likely to stir further anti-Kremlin dissent than to stifle it. "If somebody will lead this country in the direction of secessionism, it is Putin, and it would be done by means of ignoring regional interests and trying to make all decisions at one and the same center," said Petrov, an expert at Moscow's Carnegie Center.

Unlike his previous platform article, published last week in the pro-government Izvestia, Putin outlined concrete strategies for overcoming the national question, which he claimed is a result of uneven economic development and social intolerance in today's Russia. Among them is a proposal to introduce a common cultural curriculum for universities across Russia, as well as to strengthen immigration policy to combat illegal immigration. Yet most curious, perhaps, was Putin's proposal to introduce a federal structure to tackle "national development and interethnic accord" ­ a function once overseen by the Ministry of Nationalities, but which has since fallen by the way side, according to Putin, since the Ministry of Regional Development took over the task.

But Petrov said he sees Putin's proposal for greater government oversight as more of a political Trojan horse than a social solution. "His view of fixing problems is strengthening the central state rather than the developing different models in different places," he said. "This article is a kind of refusal from any kind of federation."

Others agreed, pointing additionally to the vagueness of Putin's language as a sign of his poor comprehension of the national question. According to political analyst Ilya Konstantinov, the policy paper is pure campaign fodder. "This article leaves more questions than answers," he told Kommersant. "For example, Putin criticized the European policy of multiculturalism. He says that Russia has its own way, but what is it? It's not clear. He says there should be neither assimilation nor enclaves. But what should there be? Putin is putting forward a lot of fairly controversial ideas, but there remains no clear vision of how he sees the future of nationality policy."