Sunday, June 11, 2017

Proposed Nationalities Law May Impose Limits on How Ethnic Issues May be Discussed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – The draft law on nationalities policy has attracted most attention for its definitions of ethnic terms in general and the civic Russian nation in particular, but quite possibly its most serious consequence may be the imposition of new restrictions on how politicians, journalists and others can even discuss ethnic issues.

            An article in Izvestiya on Friday says that “in Russia may appear a normative-legal act regulating the rules of the discussion of themes of inter-ethnic relations for officials, deputies, journalist, and other representatives of professions connected with public activity” (

            Iosif Diskin, a member of the Social Chamber and Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations who is participating in the drafting of the law, told the paper that sections of the law may set “definite rules” on how officials and journalists may express themselves on such issues lest they spark problems in the field.

            He added that such “a code of ethics” is needed but that at the same time there should be exceptions for the activities of the expert and analytic communities so that the members of these groups would be able to discuss such issues more openly or at least with fewer constraints on what they write and say.

            Valery Tishkov, the former nationalities minister and former director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, supports this idea, Izvestiya reports, although the academician added that it may not be necessary to include all such “demands” in this law “if such norms are [already] in other documents.”

            On issues like this, of course, the devil is in the details. On the one hand, such rules might be little more than a restatement of bans on expressing xenophobic or nationalistic views, actions that are already legally banned in the Russian Federation and subject to criminal penalties under Moscow’s anti-extremism laws.

            But on the other, such rules might introduce a further chilling effect on discussions about sensitive ethnic issues and thus promote additional restrictions on public debate about what are after all some of the most important problems in Russia today.  What makes that likely is that it would be fully consistent with Vladimir Putin’s approach to the media. 


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