Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kremlin-Promoted Mythologized Russian Past Opens the Way to a Return to Stalinism, Orekh Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Many expected that with the passage of time, new generations of Russians would reject the worst aspects of their country’s past such as Stalinism, but new polls show that support for Stalin and forgiveness of his crimes is greater among young people than among older groups.

            There are two explanations for this pattern, Moscow commentator Anton Orekh says. The first is the historical cruelty of the Russian people and their willingness to celebrate even the most horrific leaders if they are prepared to act in a cruel fashion toward those they identify as enemies (

The second, he says, is that Russians even when they know the specific facts about the past – and some three-quarters of Russian young people who celebrate Stalin as a great leader do know such facts – subsume them under the Kremlin-promoted mythology about the Russian past as one great triumph after another, interrupted only occasionally by wreckers and foreigners.

Consequently, young Russians who know something about the horrors of the GULAG and who even acknowledge specific crimes by Stalin are inclined to ignore these things as unimportant compared to the magisterial march forward of the Russian state and its cruel power over others.

Thus, young people “simply do not understand what they in fact are approving [because] history in our country always is taught as something out of a comic book or poster. A history of victories, triumphs and achievements” in which “the powers are always inerrant and wise,” the Moscow commentator says.

That means, he continues, that just providing younger Russians with more information about their country’s past will be insufficient to change their assessments of even its worst aspects, Orekh says; and it also means that the Kremlin by the historical images it promotes is opening the way for the rise of a new Stalin and a new Stalinist system. 

Civic and Ethnic Identities Only Two Among Many in Kazakhstan, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Like their Russian counterparts, Kazakh experts have long debated the relative strength of civic and ethnic attachments, Gulmira Ileuova says; but in many ways doing so has distracted attention from a far more important development: the rise and intensification of a wide variety of identities from familial and local to more global ones.

            Commenting on a recent Almaty roundtable on “Traditional Mentality and Modernization: Pitfalls and Possibilities,” the Kazakh sociologist says her colleagues in the 1990s focused primarily on how strong Soviet identities had remained in Kazakhstan and only later on the balance between civic and ethnic ones (

            In the first decade after independence, Kazakhs shifted from identifying with “one large identity” – as Soviets – to another one – as Kazakhstantsy. But over time, “significant changes occurred, migration increased, and local identities strengthened. As a result, the most important question became “’where are you from?’ not ‘who are you?’”

            She argues that this diversity of self-identifications will only increase, something that may open the way to “consolidation on some entirely new basis. But this will happen only after another ten years.” 

            In 2004, Ileuova says she found that 57 percent of citizens of Kazakhstan identified in the first instance as such, 26 percent listed their local identity first, and only 4.9 percent listed ethnic identification. Religion was only rarely a primary identity.

            Civic national identity rose to 71 percent in 2012 before falling back to 62 percent in 2016; local identity fell to 17 percent in the first of these years and then recovered to 23 percent in the latter. Ethnic and religious identities remained relative low, the sociologist reports. But she does note that Kazakhs more than other ethnic groups there are interested in how people identify.

            Ileuova concludes with the following observation: “With time we may encounter definite challenges from the point of view of issues of integrating various groups of the population of the country. At the same time, one cannot fail to note that the developing multiplicity of identities still hasn’t changed interethnic relations.”

But clearly identities will continue to change rather than shift permanently from one thing to another, the sociologist suggests. 

Putin’s Nationality Policy Pushing Russia toward a Yugoslav Outcome, Bashkir Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – At the end of Gorbachev’s times, the greatest fear in Western capitals was that the Soviet Union would, in the words of US Secretary of State James Baker, become “a Yugoslavia with nukes,” that is, a country that would fall apart in a series of violent spasms that would likely draw in other powers.

            The nations that then lay within the borders of the USSR and the world at large were remarkably fortunate that, thanks to the restraint of most in Moscow and the statesmanship of most non-Russian leaders and Western officials, such a horrific outcome did not occur and that the demise of the Soviet Union was relatively non-violent.

            Tragically, the Russian Federation is now led by an openly revanchist president who has called for a revision of the 1991 settlement, shown his willingness to use force in pursuit of that goal and displayed the kind of arrogant contempt for the more than a quarter of the population of the Russian Federation which is not ethnically Russian.

            Consequently, at a time when Vladimir Putin’s statements about the Russian language, the Russian nation and the supremacy over everything else of his power vertical, it is perhaps not surprising that some non-Russians are worried that the Kremlin leader is acting in ways that could make “a Yugoslav scenario” possible within the current borders of the Russian Federation.

            One is Marat Kulsharipov, an historian at Bashkir State University in Ufa, who told RFE/RL’s Tatar Service that Putin’s latest comments about the Russian language are simply “the latest step in his efforts to establish a civic Russian nation” and that it is sad that a senior official should “succumb” to such notions ( in Tatar; in Russian).
            And he makes the following additional and disturbing point: “Russia [now] is going along the path of the former Yugoslavia, conducting a policy against the preservation of language, history and traditions of the non-Russian peoples. This is being done on the sly,” but nonetheless consistently and thus dangerously.

            Just how explosive the situation may be thanks to Putin’s insensitive chauvinism is shown by the comments of two senior figures in Tatarstan, which suggest that Kazan is in no mood prepared to back down in the face of Putin’s drive, and by those of Sakha parliamentarian which underscores how other non-Russians are viewing the current Moscow-Kazan clash.

                Tatarstan’s education minister Engel Fttakhov declared that “In Tatarstan, Tatar is the state language for everyone. This is written black on white in our Constitution. We are actin in the framework of the law. A consensus has been achieved. [Our] educational programs correspond to federal standards.”

            And Rafael Khakimov, former advisor to former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev and currently vice president of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, was even more pointed: “Tatarstan has its own constitution and its own law on state languages … the Supreme Court of Russia … recognizes this as absolutely lawful.”

            “In order to exclude instruction in Tatar, it would be necessary to change the [Tatarstan] Constitution,” the academician said. “We hope things will not go that far.”

            Meanwhile, Ivan Shamayev, a Sakha parliamentarian, told RFE/RL’s Tatar Service that Putin’s comments on language instruction were directed “above all at Tatarstan. It turns out that only in that republic does instruction of the national language remain [a requirement]. If Tatarstan will be able to respond to this pressure in a worthy manner, we will applaud, standing.”

            “In the national republics, instruction in state languages should be obligatory,” Shamayev said. “But de facto, for a long time already, this has not been the case in all republics.  [What Putin said] is what he really wants.  The national republics will be forced to bear the burden of preserving their own languages by themselves.”

            And he continued, “In the Komi republic, Komi isn’t taught; in Buryatia, the same thing is true and these languages are at risk of disappearing. But in Tatarstan, the situation is different. It provides an example to many. I hope that the republics will defend their national rights.”