Monday, June 5, 2017

Moscow’s Nationality Policies Must Focus on Regions as Well as Republics, Zorin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – The 47-member Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations should devote “more attention to the regions and the level of local self-administration” rather than just to the non-Russian republics and specific ethnic communities, according to Vladimir Zorin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.

            That is because, he says, it is in the regions where “the ethnic policy of the state is carried out” and because these regions expect from us methological directives generalizing positive practices, and for this one must travel more to localities and spend more time solving practical tasks” (

                “I would even create a group of federal experts on issues of nationality policy. There is experience of that kind, for example, in Perm kray where there is an individual with the status of the kray expert on issues of the state’s nationality strategies.”  And the federal group should include representatives not only from Moscow and St. Petersburg but from “many regions.”

            Zorin’s words may seem unimportant, but they in fact mark a double breakthrough as far as Moscow’s nationality policy is concerned. On the one hand, his suggestion that experts from the federal subjects should be involved in any Moscow discussions challenges the hyper-centralized approach that has long dominated this and other fields.

            It thus provides an opening for experts from both non-Russian republics and predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays to participate in the formulation of ideas rather than simply having them presented to them as the decision of the center.

            And on the other – and this is the far more important aspect of what Zorin told the Nazaccent portal today – his call for those formulating nationality policy to focus on all regions and on local self-administration in particular suggests that Moscow may be expanding the definition of nationality policy to include elements that are usually left to others.

            For most of Soviet and nearly all of post-Soviet Russian history, Moscow has operated with a very restricted definition of what is included in nationality policy and that means that other agencies define outcomes more than they should and that Russian oblasts take decisions on ethnicity without Moscow’s input, often tilting the field in them against non-Russians.

            Given how underfunded and understaffed the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs is and given the difficulties of expanding its writ to include all issues that ethnicity affects, it is far from certain that Zorin’s suggestion will be accepted. But the fact that he is pushing for this redefinition of nationality policy may open the way to change.

            At the very least, his words will allow officials and ethnic activists at various levels the occasion for the kind of discussion that might allow for innovation and for taking ethnic issues more seriously than Soviet and latterly Russian “nationality policy” has done up to now. 


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