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United Russia: Moscow to take Siberian identity into account in nationality policy

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April 4, 2011, 12:09 p.m. | Op-ed — by Paul Goble

Lake Baikal, Siberia

Paul Goble

In what many Siberians see as a recognition of their status as a separate nationality and in a move with potentially far reaching consequences for other groups in the Russian Federation, a United Russia Duma deputy says that Moscow “will consider the Siberians” when it is developing and carrying out nationality-related policies. Valery Draganov, the first deputy chairman of the Duma industrial committee, noted that “according to the results of the last census, the word ‘Siberian’ in the nationality line has broken all records,” with significant numbers of residents in Tyumen, Omsk, and other cities east of the Urals identifying themselves that way.

“Under conditions when the sense of being cut off is growting among residents of the regions, when they do not feel themselves as part of the large country,” Draganov said in words posted on the United Russia Party website, “the question of nationality policy acquires an unprecedented sharpness.”

Rosstat has not yet released nationality figures from the 2010 census, but clearly the number of people in Siberia who identified as Siberians was large – and would have been larger still had it not been the widely reported actions of census takers who illegally refused to enter such declarations on the census forms.

Draganov noted that there are currently “many challenges on the path of strengthening the multi-national unity of Russia,” including differences in religion, culture and way of life of people living in various parts of the country. “Under communism, this question was regulated by political-administrative methods,” but now “such an approach is unacceptable.”

“What is necessary,” the United Russia deputy said, “is a consensus, one when on the one hand is formed a tolerant milieu, with all conditions established for the preservation of the national traditions of peoples of Russia, and on the other, is developed in citizens a spirit of unity and a feeling of belonging to one great country.”

“A wise nationality policy can assist in the adoption of balanced decisions directed at the economic development of the regions … the stimulation of a favorable investment climate in the regions, and the formation of conditions for the development of business,” Draganov continued, focusing on the specific areas of his responsibility.

“In particular,” Draganov said, in all such programs” must be considered not only economic and social indicators but also their cultural and national peculiarities.” Doing so, he added, “will more correctly direct resources, assess risks, and create conditions for the strengthening of the institutions of democracy.”

And he said that in his view, “decisions in the area of nationality policy mustbe taken not only on the basis of the opinion of the international expert community but also on that of administrative-political structures,” something that would open the way to various subgroups within existing nations.


For Siberians, both regionalists and nationalists, this represents an important victory in their drive for recognition as a self-standing community. But for other subgroups of ethnic Russians and other nationalities, it may be even more important, opening the way for an unpacking of the definitions of nationality the Russian Federation inherited from Soviet times.

And that shift from an objective to a subjective definition of nationality, one that the 1993 Constitution promised but that Russian Federation officials have often ignored or resisted, could dramatically change how the citizens of that country define themselves and hence what kind of political units are likely to emerge in that part of Eurasia.



Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, he can be contacted directly at paul.goble@gmail.com. You can read all his blog entries at http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/
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