Homogenisation and the 'New Russian Citizen': A Road to Stability or Ethnic Tension?

Article excerpt

This article investigates the phenomenon of homogenizing policies in post-Yeltsin Russia. This consists of a series of measures that have effectively downgraded ethnicity and increased uniformity. First, the article outlines theories linking multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism, and indeed minority rights, to stability. Second, the article traces the trajectory of nationality policies from the Soviet to the post-Soviet periods, and explains the (post-Yeltsin) Russian authorities' choice to distance themselves from earlier practices, opting for homogenization. Third, it delineates the forms of de-ethnification: the promotion of a civic Russian identity (the 'the new Russian citizen') to the detriment of minority identities, and the restructuring of the Federation to reduce the salience of ethnicity. In light of the theories linking multiculturalism and stability, the article then examines whether the current 'homogenizing' policies bring a fragile and ephemeral or a durable and solid political stability. The article concludes that, on one side, the measures might be reducing minorities' demands for the preservation of ethnic distinctiveness, leading them to identify with a Russian civic identity. On the other, homogenizing policies, by downgrading ethnicity, have generated grievances, when such policies have been perceived as a form of repression. As such, the status quo does not guarantee long-lasting political stability.

Keywords: Minorities, minority rights, Russia, homogenization, integration, nationality, education, patriotism, multiculturalism, identity.

In its third periodic report to the Council of Europe's Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), the Russian government places a strong emphasis on its long tradition of accommodation of national diversity.1 The presence of a plethora of diverse ethnicities at various historical junctions of Russian history-the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation-has necessitated special attention to diversity with a view to preventing conflict. According to government data there are over 160 ethnicities in Russia, or 'nationalities' (natsional'nosti). Nearly 20% of the population of Russia is made up of non-Russians: 79.8% are ethnic Russians, followed by 3.8% Tatars, 2% Ukrainians, 1.2% Bashkirs, 1.1% Chuvases, 0.9% Chechens and 0.8% Armenians; other, much smaller, minorities make up 10.2% of the population.2 The country also has high levels of religious pluralism: in particular, over half of the persons belonging to national minorities are Muslims. This diversity, and the historic salience of the 'national question', led to the personal involvement of both Lenin and Stalin in attempts to 'solve' it. The modern Russian Federation has inherited both ethnic pluralism and the Soviet methods to regulate it, particularly its ethnic federalism. Yet former President Vladimir Putin's leadership saw a departure from earlier nationality policies towards new forms of homogenization which command greater uniformity and a strong emphasis on a civic Russian identity-policies that continue under the Putin-Medvedev 'tandem'.3

This article investigates the phenomenon of homogenizing policies in post- Yeltsin Russia. This consists of a series of measures that have effectively downgraded ethnicity and increased uniformity. First, the article outlines theories linking multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism, and indeed minority rights, to stability. Second, it traces the trajectory of nationality policies from the Soviet to the post-Soviet periods, and explains the (post-Yeltsin) Russian authorities' choice to distance themselves from earlier practices, opting for homogenization. Third, it delineates the forms of de-ethnification: the promotion of a civic Russian identity ( 'the new Russian citizen') to the detriment of minority identities, and the restructuring of the Federation to reduce the salience of ethnicity. …