Professor, Mari State University,
Republic of Mariel, Russia
The discovery and analysis of the realistic situation with the observance of human rights in accordance with international standards is a most important task when turning to the question of the modern situation in the Russian Federation. Under conditions of the multinational character of the country this problem is objectively closely connected with national relations.
In this country small nationalities and ethnic minorities are integrated into the common social, cultural, economic and political life of the whole state, which is dominated by one nation – the Russians. Under conditions of a comprehensive unification of the way of living, inflation of ethnic-cultural values and the so-called “internationalization” of many peoples, there is a real threat to small nations of losing their native language, their culture, and finally – of complete assimilation.
Therefore the words “national revival”, “human rights” for us, representatives of small nations, signify the advancement of the right to survive and preserve our originality and values.
Therefore, examination of the question on observance of rights of small peoples and ethnic minorities in Russia and determination of prospects and chances of their national revival with the use of world experience and standards of an international right presents itself as highly relevant. For clarification of the intricate questions of the modern situation and outlook of the strengthening of an interethnic agreement, it is necessary to investigate the large complex of interrelated factors influencing the situation of the rights of national minorities and small peoples. It is necessary to learn the reasons of difficulties and contradictions of the process of democratization in a multinational country striving to become a legal state. It becomes more and more obvious that one of the most important causes is the preservation in the new Russian leadership, which is considered democratic, of an imperialist, superpower policy. In the conception of national policy a main flaw lay in precisely the weak attention to the securing of the rights of small indigenous peoples of republics and okrugs (regions).
The Russian Federation declared itself the legal successor of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately continuity is apparent also in the national policy. Probably many people remember Boris Yeltsin’s populist quip during his visit to Tatarstan in spring 1991: “Take as much sovereignty as you can swallow”. But as soon as the leaders and national public movements of republics began to implement the idea of maximum sovereignty, the Russia’s leadership initially developed signs of the same disease as the former soviet leadership with regard to the Baltic states: intimidation, threats, attempts at pressure.
The positions of the Russian leadership manifested themselves in the toleration and even silent support, in any case in the non-restriction, the non-restraint of chauvinist organizations such as “Pamiat’,” “Russkii Natsional’nyi Sobor” and others. President Yeltsin himself in his public addresses has several times repeated the slogan, “An only one and undivided Russia,” bluntly returning our historical memory to the time of the Russian empire. A direct interrelationship exists between the rise of Russian “national-patriotism” and the retaliatory separatism.
The problem of situation of non-Russian peoples in Russia has been greatly misrepresented. Soviet scholarship declared that Leninist national policy had been successfully implemented as the final solution of the nationality problem, resulting in the friendship, equality and unity of all the nations of the USSR. The thesis of the revival of small nations by Soviets was widely proclaimed. At the same time the investigations of foreign Sovietologists were represented as false, and the prognoses of possible interethnic conflicts were ignored. But now this has become the tragic reality.
The current situation of indigenous non-Russian peoples proceeds very diversely, and that is conditioned by the interaction of many factors. It is hardly ever possible to speak about the uniform development of all the small peoples in the past and present.
The current ethnic development is also greatly influenced by history. I shall try to demonstrate this, using mainly the Finno-Ugric Peoples as an example. They are consolidated by the unity of ethnic birth and cognate language. At the final stage of ethnogenesis and the end of the primitive communal system, having had no time to form their own states, the ancient Finno-Ugrians (and other peoples of North and Siberian, too) found themselves within the orbit of the geopolitical interests of their more powerful and aggressive neighbors. They were involved into the course of the Slavonic-Russian military-trade-colonizational expansion yet in the times of Kiev and Novgorod Russ. The Merya, Muroma, Meshchera, Chud’ Zavolochskaya and many other tribes disappeared during the Slavonic-Russian thrust to the Northeast. And the Southeastern, outskirts of the Finno-Ugric area there lay the warlike Turkic world. At first rather numerous and occupying a considerable territory, the Eastern Finno-Ugrians were pressed and squeezed by the Turks from the East and the Russians from the West. In the 16th century they were conquered by Muscovite Russia. It was complete in the end of 16th century. About 50 years Maris, Udmurts also Tatars, Bashkorts fought against the Russian invaders. The annexation of their land to Russia was accompanied by brutality. Essentially punitive detachments carried out genocide. During the Moscow conquest the Russian invaders had exterminated a considerable part (not less than half) of the aboriginal population. In the 17th century Siberian Peoples (Yakuts, Buryats etc.) were subjugated, later – many other peoples.
In the following years in combination with the vague form of enslaving the real violence pursed the non-Russian peoples during the establishing of foreign administrative ruling as well as during Christening. In the Russian Empire they completely underwent uncovered assimilation purposes scorns and persecutions on the national bases. This remains in the people’s consciousness, their folk memory and historical legends as a bleeding wound.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century a national democratic intelligentsia arose among the small non-Russian peoples and it undertook the task of their national revival. Its first representatives wrote their works in Russian, including material from their native folklore, ethnography and historical legends in their essays and articles. Then they printed the first books on the native languages, laid the foundations of national literature and introduced native languages of tuition of schools.
After the October revolution on the one and a half decade the Soviet State continued this positive traditions, and then it took a great backward step.
Especially tragic were the consequences of collectivization, since the non-Russian peoples in general were rural inhabitants. The land of the Karelians, Saamis, Komis, Permian Komis, Chukchies, Evenks, Khants and Mansis were immediate part of the GULAG system. The Kalmyks, Ingrian Finns, Balkars and other underwent the fate of repressed peoples.
A real great tragedy crushed the Russia’s Peoples and their culture at the end of the 1930s. All native intellectuals were practically obliterated as “enemies of people” and “bourgeois nationalists”, being subjected to repression as agents of Finland, Germany, Japan etc. The intelligentsia, for example, of the Finno-Ugrian Peoples was shot on the charge of wishing to separate their territories from the USSR and unite them with Finland or, at least, to form a Finno-Ugrian Federation under Finnish protection. Mass repression annihilated the brightest people of these not yet ethnically strong nations – the young national intelligentsia – and destroyed the nation’s genetic pool.
Thus the Communist regime successfully accomplished what four centuries of czarism had failed to do: by means of physical, moral and psychological terror the mass consciousness was filled with a slavish, colonial psychology, a complex of national inferiority.
The historical Past still colors the present-day revival of self-consciousness, adding a certain moral-psychological shade to the folk memory in the modern ethno-political situation.
The indigenous non-Russian peoples of Russia are rather in quantitative characteristics. They greatly differ in their numbers. According to the 1989 census the number of Tatars is 6 million, Chuvashes, Bashkorts and Mordvins have more than a million, Udmurts – 747 thousand, Maris – 671 thousand; several peoples as Komis, Karelians, Kalmyks, Tuvins, Yakuts etc.- more than 100 thousand; Khakasses, Altays, Khants, Evenks, Nenetses and many other – less than 100 thousand; more than 20 ethnic groups – less than 10 thousand etc.
Thus, there are more than 100 (or about 150) nations and ethnic groups living in the Russian Federation now. Some of them are small in number. There is no doubt that the number of members of people defines in many ways the possibilities of their language’s functioning and the development of professional art. Specifically it is unlikely for the language of a small nationality or ethnic group to become the language of scholarship, higher education; there is also little possibility for national opera and ballet to be to become firmly established as a developed art. But the majority of peoples do have a sufficient number for that.
The development of this or that nationality is also greatly influenced by its political status, by the presence or absence of some form of state system or autonomy. The possibilities of free development of the language and national culture in the independent states (for example Finland, Poland separated from Russia) differ a lot from the same possibilities in the autonomous republics of Komis, Yakuts, Karelians, Maris etc., within Russia. The proclamation of formal sovereignty and the removal of the word “autonomous” from their official names have no significance. Pseudo-sovereignty is advantageous first of all for the top level party bosses, who have moved over to the state and economic structures, and for the domination of the economy of the republics enterprises by the former all-Union Ministries and military-industrial complex.
Some observers on the sidelines think that a proclamation of sovereignty proceeds from the demands of the indigenous nationality and serves its best interests and rights. In a situation, where the Supreme Soviets of republics, which have proclaimed sovereignty, included a very small numbers of the native representatives of the nationality which gave its name to the republics, it was hardly possible to expect any serious legislation, defending the rights and interests of the indigenous nationality and ensuring real opportunities for the development of the people’s culture. Sovereignty can also serve as a screen for getting the republics attached to the antiquated all-Union structures for tearing them away from the democratic Russia.
Even fewer possibilities of independent development are available to the Permian Komis, Khants and Mansis, Nenetses, Chukchis, Evenks with autonomous districts within a administrative region (oblast’) and it is of great importance for them to change their autonomous status – to stop being a part of those regions and establish direct links with the ruling bodies of Russia.
Other smaller peoples have no any form of autonomous administrative system at all. Among them the Saamis (Lapps) occupy a somewhat special position, being by the borders of four states: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In the first three the Saamis possess significant elements of local self- government, that is autonomy, but in Russia they have no form autonomous status.
There exist an opinion that an independent sovereign state would be ideal for every people. But reality proves, that this is not always possible and advisable. What is necessary and attainable in reality for all nationalities, even the smallest ones – is wide autonomy and, first of all, cultural autonomy of the peoples, which are a part of a multinational state. Russia’s Saamis, Vepsians and other small peoples should get in Russia the possibility for self-determination in the form of national rayons or village communes. The beginning of this can be seen in Karelia: the Sheltozero (Shoutjärv) rayon has got the status of the national Vepsian one.
For the cultural and social development of nationalities such factors, as the density of settlement and the relative proportion of the local nationality in the republics and the state-administrative units, named after this or that nationality, are also of great importance. The non-Russians of Russia are mostly national minorities in “their” national-state units, finding themselves in the position of stepchildren on their own land. Maris – 43%, Mordvins, Yakuts, Udmurts – 1/3, Komis, Bashkorts, Buryats – 1/4, Karelians and Khakasses – 10%, Khants and Mansis together – 1.5%. Only Chuvashes, Permian Komis and several other peoples are an exception in this respect, as they make up more than 50% of the population, also by the way this does not save them from the position of second -class citizens.
The empire policy always and everywhere had the purpose to assimilate native population and to provide the superiority in number of settlers who belonged to the predominating nation in the State. The totalitarian soviet regime with its industrial, military and migration policy led to the transformation of the non-Russian territories of Russia into the regions where the natives turned out to be minorities with all the sequences. And the main sequence is determined as the supremacy jungle relations of people and nations: the right is those who are stronger, who are of great number. The majority on the national territories consists now out of settlers. In this connection the problem of natives’ human rights according to the international standards became very urgent.
The non-Russian peoples have actually been debarred from power in “their” republics and districts because almost everywhere they are a national minority on the land of their ancestors. The number of representative of the indigenous people in the elective bodies is even less that of their proportion in the population of the republics or districts. Is there any hope then of any serious legislation to protect the rights, interests and hopes of the indigenous peoples being adopted? Thus, social and political self-determination will largely remain an empty declaration for them. To realize their vital interests and hopes, to protect their rights and dignity, to ensure of life worthy of man will be very difficult, if possible at all, for the peoples in the republics and districts named after them
Of course, in present-day conditions there is no an open legal restriction of human rights on the basis of nationality in our country. But in real life it is not all so simple. Members of small nations and ethnic minorities constantly experience factual restriction of opportunities for self-realization and infringement of their dignity. The Russian political forces and many local political figures are demagogically, out of general context, making use of the universally recognized stipulation international law concerning the priority of individual human rights over collective, including national ones, and the implementation of human rights irrespectively of racial, national, religious or other adherence.
The immediate problem here is the understanding of the correlation between individual and collective rights (the latter includes national rights). Russian (Soviet in its basis) social consciousness formed for decades on the criteria of one- dimensional thought (“either…or” instead of “both…and”); in connection with that and the problem here presented the contrast of individual rights independent of nationality and of collective rights of a certain ethnic association is maintained by the majority of Russians.
The initial position of the author of the present article in the given question consists of the fact that it is impossible to place these rights in opposition.
However, not only in Russia but also in the West, the idea that there is not a separate problem of national rights is widespread. It is considered that if human rights are observed in general in regard to each individual, then this signifies the automatic solution of the question of national rights. Meanwhile it is notable that in the speech of Pope John Paul II, in December 1995, the idea was raised of the necessity of accepting the UN Declaration on National Rights, like the Declaration on Human Rights.
Moreover more than half of Chuvashes and Maris, 3/4 Mordvins and Tatars, 1/3 of Udmurts live outside the borders of “their’ republics. The Karelians in Tver’ province, Komis in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, Mordvins in Orenburg province etc. are also separated from their main ethnic mass and homeland. Such a scatter of separate ethnic parts practically deprives them of opportunities for national development and regular contact with their national culture and mother tongue, and dooms them to assimilation with the surrounding population (Russian first of all). Additional complex problems of ethnic- cultural interaction of the whole Diaspora are related to this factor.
Up till the end of the 30s the possibilities of ethnic-cultural development of the non-Russians, living outside their own republics did exist in regions where they had dense settlement, but this practically ceased at the end of the 30s. Wherever these Diasporas lived they lost the opportunity to teach their children, or to read books, newspapers and magazines in the native language.
The reduction of Mordvins, Karelians, Vepsians and several ethnic groups in number with each successive census, as well as the demographic stagnation of some other peoples is a result of a combination of many of the above-mentioned factors.
1939 1959 1970 1979 1989
Mordvins 1,451,400 1,285,000 1,263,000 1,192,000 1,153,500
Karelians 252,500 167,300 146,000 138,400 130,900
Vepsians 32,000 16,400 8,300 8,100 12,500
For many of the indigenous non-Russian peoples a disastrous situation has developed with the native language, which can be seen by comparing the results of the two USSR Censuses of 1959 and 1989.
Regarded their ethnic language as a native one (per cent)
Karelian 71.3 47.3
Komis 89.3 70.4
Permian Komis 87.6 70.1
Maris 95.1 80.8
Mordvins 78.1 67.1
Udmurts 89.1 69.6
Khants 77.0 60.5
Mansis 59.2 37.1
Saamis 69.9 42.2
Vepsians 46.1 50.8
Izhorians (Ingrians) 34.7 36.8
Finns 59.5 34.6
The loss of the native languages’ positions is the result of an intentional premeditated national-language policy and primarily of the transfer of school education in the 1960s to the Russian language starting from the first grades. It was criminal decision that led to sad consequences. The native languages were ousted from social life and the intellectual sphere and limited to everyday life. In regional centers and districts with mixed population not only schools with instruction in the language of the local people, but also those where the native language was taught as a subject, started to disappear. Later even in the absolutely non-Russian village schools (non-Russian peoples mostly live in the countryside) the native language was kept in the background and was ousted as a separate subject of education. During a quarter of a century there grew up a whole generation Mordvins, Bashkorts and other, including the young intelligentsia, who knew the language of the native people only on the level of the street and everyday necessities or did not know it at all; because the native word started to disappear even from the family-domestic, “kitchen” intercourse, in the case of communication between generations. The language situation of not only small nationalities, but also of the average ones has reached the dividing line, which separates them from irreversible processes. The national languages have lost the features of a living organism, including the ability to resist the excessive introduction of Russian words and foreign words, coming through Russian. They can no longer digest them in accordance with their own laws.
Many linguists deny the necessity of creating new specialized terminology in the native language. It explains the poverty of the national vocabulary, concerning the social-political life. In “sovereign” republics all correspondence and official business is done in Russian. And nowadays, when talking about state (official) languages, many people put forward a direct question: “Can, for example, the Komi or Buryat languages fully fulfill this function?” The reality is such, that there is a serious reason for such doubts. Those languages are unused not only in the official state and social life (the fact is, that even of writers’ meetings are held in Russian). In the streets, shops or in public transport of capitals of the national republics it is next to impossible to hear the native language.
Not so long ago a scholar from Turkey visited Yoshkar-Ola to consolidate his knowledge of Mari. He naively thought, that knowledge of Mari is enough to live in the capital of the Mari republic. But he could not solve any of his problems in the hotel or post-office using Mari; when he addressed somebody in this language he was looked at as if he was lunatic.
Therefore it is difficult to speak about real equality of languages so far. In the republics, which are part of the Russian Federation, should be adopted laws, which guarantee the realization of the state language functions to native languages along with Russian, which is the state language in Russia and all the republics, within it.
We always note the wide spread of bilingualism as one of the remarkable achievements of our interethnic practice. But we have a one-sided understanding of this question. In real life the fact is that only national-Russian bilingualism of the indigenous nationalities is considered to be obligatory, implying that Maris, Khakasses and other non-Russians should know Russian well. However, for the improvement of the moral-psychological situation in the republics the wider expansion of knowledge of the local language among Russians is of great importance. For some categories of officials this should become one of the professional criteria. The Constitution proclaims the right of every citizen of Russian Federation to address any state establishment in his or her native language. Though this right is guaranteed in the Main Law, it is not so in reality and it would not be so till the officials in the administration are chosen in consideration of their knowledge of the local people’s language.
To illustrate the widely spread opinion on this issue we can mention the discussion of the legislative bill about the introduction of presidency in the Mari Republic. In this document there was proposal that the President should have a command of both state languages (Mari and Russian). What a massive attack was launched against this item! Even many Maris opposed it. How much the national psychology must have been damages and traumatized, how much inferior the people must feel in their own native land to advocate such positions in order to avoid the accusation of nationalism and to be considered internationalists.
At this point the important factor of national self-consciousness arises. This question needs historical elucidation.
Nationalism (i.e. movements for the preservation and free development of nations, their languages and cultures) appeared and being formed among non-Russian small peoples at the beginning of the 20th century, at the time of the first Russian revolution. But they were not organized completely at that time. National movements came into prominence in 1917, after the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. After this national movements were well organized. For example, a society of small nationalities of the Volga region was founded in Kazan’. The demands of their programme were limited to cultural autonomy. After the October revolution the Bolsheviks according to the party and class principle artificially split the national movements. Those organizations, which had been founded by the petty-bourgeois democratic intelligentsia, were dispersed and communist national sections were founded. The autonomous regions (later transformed into republics) of the Karelians, Udmurts, Maris, Chuvashes, Buryats and other peoples were created by edicts.
Many national democrats turned out to be “internal emigrnts”. In the 20-s they carried out great cultural and education work for the development of their people. In the 30-s such work was regarded as “nationalism” (in Soviet practice this word had a very negative meaning). The nationally thinking intelligentsia was subjected to repression.
The revival of national aspirations started in the republic only with the beginning of “perestroika”. In the late 1980-s small groups of nationally thinking intelligentsia became initiators of the foundation of national organizations. Their formation dates back 1989 – 1990. For example, in October 1989 there took place a Constituent Congress of the “Mastorava” (“Motherland”) society in Saransk, the Congress approved a programme directed at the cultural revival of the Mordvin people; in April, 1990 the Chuvash Public Cultural Center was founded, and a group of initiators worked out a platform of the movement of the cultural and language development of Chuvash people.
National movements and organizations originally declared cultural and educational aims. Subsequent congresses introduced amendments into the Regulations, which showed an increasingly political trend. The development of national movements has proceeded in a complicated and unhealthy way. The important fact was that at the same time as the national movements emerged the republican governments started proclaiming their sovereignty. But this process in all republics except Tatarstan and Chechnya was taken over by forces indifferent to the interests of the indigenous population.
Not in one single republic was it possible national movements to achieve collaboration with local branches of general Russian democratic movements. Everywhere local organizations of “Demokraticheskaya Rossia” (“Democratic Russia”), “Vybor Rossii” (“Russia’s Choice”) and other parties opposed the national movements. In the Mari republic the organ of the local branch of “Demokraticheskaya Rossia” the newspaper “Golos demokrata” (“Voice of democracy”) accused the “Mari Ushem” (“Mari Union”) movement of nationalism and threatened them with the creation of so-called International Front. The sharpest confrontation was in Mordovia. There were serious reasons for this confrontation. V.Gusliannikov who was elected president of the republic displayed his lack of concern for the language and culture of the Mordvin people by appointing as ministers of Culture and Education persons displaying their contempt for the needs of national development. That is why accusations of carrying on russificatory traditions, which were brought against the so-called democrats, were well grounded. The conservative Supreme Soviet that consisted of the same most active CPSU members as before, under the leadership of the former secretary of the regional Committee of the CPSU took advantage of this situation.
Thus, the case of the declaration of sovereignty is not simple question. In most cases the very idea has been seized by forces inimical or at least indifferent to the indigenous people. Those forces include the patocracy that in the conditions of the crisis of the CPSU has resettles in the state and economic structures (it also continued to form the nucleus off the Supreme Soviets). Those forces included also the military-industrial complex that has the upper hand in the economy of practically all the autonomous formations (it also plays a significant role in the Supreme Soviets). There are practically no members of the indigenous people among the military-industrial nomenklatura. It feels absolutely no concern for the rights, interests or needs of the peoples after whom the republics have been named. It is precisely this force that comes out with openly chauvinistic views everywhere. Among the partocracy, another hand, there can be found people of native origin, but as a rule they are what Lenin defined as “russified aliens” (obrusevshie inorodtsy). In their majority they are collaborationists who have built their careers on the limitation of the language, culture and consciousness of the people they came from but feel ashamed of belonging to. Of course they too are little disturbed about the problems of the indigenous population, although, by the way, there have been not a few cases in which the partocrats ousted from the corridors of power to mind playing the “national card”, representing themselves as protectors of the indigenous people, its rights, culture and language.
On the whole the party, military and economic “nomenklatura” has made use of the idea of sovereignty against democracy. The Finno-Ugric and other former autonomous republics are a conservative Russian backwater where the former leading forces continue to reign, having but a little changed color and taken down communist signboard.
A paradox lies in that the new political forces (“democrats”) have taken to the position of Unitarianism and inattention to the vital problems of small nations and ethnic groups. The public figures of the national movements, on their part, unnecessarily surrounding themselves with only national slogan and detaching them from the general democratic ones, often groundlessly fence themselves off from the Russian democratic movements, trends and tendencies, and attack them in league with “national-communism”. Even though they all, the general democratic as well as the national-democratic movements are objectively interested on overcoming the consequences of the communist rule in particular the Stalinist national policy of the CPSU. This heritage is still very much alive.
In addition to the counteraction from outside, disagreements developed inside the national movements, which brought about a split. For example, in Komi together with the Committee for revival of Komi people there had been founded the Party “Doryan asnymös” (“Defend ourselves”) and a serious conflict immediately started between them. In Mariel a small group formed “Kugeze Mlande” (“Land of Forefathers”) and split off from Mari Ushem”; later the national party “Ushem” (“Union”) was founded. The split resulted in a developing confrontation in other republics as well (Mordovia, Udmurtia etc.). These events undermined the possibility of broadening the influence of these national movements among the peoples.
Thus, the ideas of national liberation and revival have made certain progress among many non-Russian peoples. But the social movement for the realization of these ideals has led to big problems. After the noticeable wave of the 1980-s and 90-s the movement is now in a state of recession and even crisis.
The revival and development of national self-consciousness is a real life problem for the peoples of Russia. For them the state of national humiliation and national inferiority complex, which were introduced after the mass repressions of the 1930-s, are very typical. The terror undermined their genetic fund and destroyed their best representatives. In place of the “nationalists”, who devoted themselves to the cultural revival of their native peoples, and the preservation and development of their languages, came a new generation of leaders and “intelligentsia”, who were not excessively burdened by concern for the culture and the language of their native peoples. They successfully imposed on the social consciousness a disregard for national-cultural values and a slavish colonial psychology. Fear and stupor remained deeply ingrained in the mass consciousness after 1937. The existing low level of national self-awareness can not be explained by the pressure of exterior factors only. It is caused in the first place by inner psychological difficulties. It is a result of a continuous moral-psychological terror.
The level of ethnic identity of many of the non-Russian peoples in Russia (for example, of the Finno-Ugrians) is rather low. The aspiration towards a revival and determination to assert the rights of their peoples has only embraced a narrow stratum of the intelligentsia, who are the most active members of the national-democratic movements and organizations (Committee for the Revival of the Komi people, “Mari Ushem”, “Mastorava” in Mordovia etc.). Unfortunately national identity has not become a factor of mass consciousness. Among industrial workers, technical intelligentsia and office employees, indeed, the predominant state of mind is national nihilism. Officials, with some exceptions, only pursue a collaborationist policy, since they are not concerned about the fate of the native people, but about a quick promotion in their career and for this they have to be so-called “internationalists”.
Ethnic identity however still survives in the countryside. But the rural population is socially and politically apathetic, that is why it is ethnic psychology cannot be realized in a strengthening and deepening of social movements for national revival.
Today we face harder conditions than the first intellectuals who tackled the problem of national revival. Young people show little interest in the activities of national organizations. The stereotype in the consciousness of the younger generation is as follows: the transition to the Russian cultural and linguistic environment helps towards a more successful career and less moral and psychological discomfort; and adherence to the language and ethnic cultural traditions of their parents plays no positive role in everyday life.
The intelligentsia alone can be a decisive force in the national rebirth. But many of peoples of Russia have not succeeded in creating a hereditary national intelligentsia; it has become russified already in the 2nd generation and lost its roots. And a new generation of intellectuals has been recruited from the village youth. The Udmurt, Kalmyk, Mari and other scholars, writers, actors are first-generation intellectuals or semi-intelligentsia. And their children have grown up in towns in an atmosphere, which is harmful for them morally and psychologically. They belong to their parents’ nationality only according to their passports, but not in spirit, world outlook or interest in ethnic-cultural values.
The activity of members of the national movements arises from the hope, that it is not too late and that it is still possible to halt the loss of national cultures and the disappearance of their languages.
The Russian laws on language and education that have been adopted do not fully ensure the protection of the languages of small nations and ethnic minorities. They declare the principle of free choice of the language of tuition. The position and right of the native language and the whole ethnic identity, in situation described above, can only be protected and revived if children receive their first instruction in the native language. Ideally, this stage should continue all the way from the nursery to a higher educational establishment, that is, the native language should also be the language of higher education. But we are extremely far from the ideal, as the only language of higher education in Russia is Russian. In such a situation a graduate from a secondary school or secondary specialized educational establishment should certainly have a sufficient command of the Russian language. But we look upon one thing as obligatory: school education should start in the native language, while Russian in the early stages of education should be just a separate subject. And then, gradually and in stages, the transition to the Russian language of instruction should take place, while the native language and literature should remain in the school programme till the end of secondary education.
Such an approach demands also a radical re-orientation of the social mass consciousness of the indigenous peoples. The defense of national languages, national cultures and ethnic traditions requires not only state policy and the activity of social organizations and movements, but also an inner psychological necessity and the concern of every member of the given nationality. No exterior influence will help until the indigenous communities free themselves from apathy in regard to their own nation’s fate and overcome the national inferiority complex imposed on them from without, until the striving for national revival becomes the decisive element of mass consciousness.
Thus, the situation of the rights of indigenous non-Russian peoples and ethnic minorities in Russia is very complex and disturbing. The causes of this situation can be divided into two groups.
One group derives from history: as the result of the centuries-old colonial regime (both tsarist and soviet), with the exception of the 1920-s, when quite positive results were achieved which were destroyed later on.
The second group is the position of the contemporary government of Russia. The policy of today’s Russian leadership concerning nationality affairs is still the same imperial and great power policy. The bloody events in Chechnya are culmination of this.
The Russian Federation has declared itself to be the successor to the USSR and the continuity of its policy is revealed by its nationality policy. The USSR collapsed because it tried to preserve the old imperial policy without any change. The same is true of the new Russian government. Its policy has not been thoroughly worked out. The motto “Russia one and indivisible” remains the policy of the Russian Empire. The tendency towards Unitarianism and reduction of the republics in the Russian Federation to mere administrative-territorial units is confirmed in the Russian Federation new Constitution. The statements of the leaders of the former State Committee (present Ministry) on Nationalities, and of persons from the Presidential entourage express their negative attitude against the very concept of “native peoples”.
In a number of journalistic and scholarly publications the cause of disagreements between the peoples of the former USSR is said to be self-determination on the principle of territorial autonomy. The conception of Nationalities Policy of the Russian Federation reflected a negative attitude toward the political autonomy of small nations of Russia. All the decisions concerning the small nations of Russia have proved to be merely declarative. Leaders of national movements are accused of artificially stirring up the problems of small nations in the regions and republics, and of violating the rights of representatives of other nationalities – i.e. Russians.
Different measures have been proposed in the search for a way out of the disturbing situation. At the all-Russian congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples in Izhevsk in May 1992, it was proposed that two-chamber parliaments be set up in the republics, one of the chambers to be made up solely of representatives of the indigenous people and both chambers to have the right of veto. In the respect we need to study the experience of the Saami (Lapp) Parliaments in the Scandinavian countries and the experience of the creation of Eskimo representative bodies in Canada and Greenland.
Also, there is very need for a Russian law on the protection of the indigenous peoples, the working out of which has been delayed.
Under examination of the presented problem, of course, the calculation of the ethno-political situation in concrete national republics and autonomous okrugs and in places of compact dwelling of national groups and minorities has great meaning. It is extremely important to bear in mind the consequences of “sovereignization” of autonomous republics. Examination of these questions has great topicality in connection with the fact that the Russian leadership in essence lacks a scientifically based policy, and the practical actions of the Ministry of National Affairs and Regional Policy are not conducive to a peaceful solution of conflicting situations, of which events in the Northern Caucasus and interrelations with Tatarstan are evidence. In the basis lies imperial disrespect for the rights of indigenous peoples.
Therefore, it seems important to present to the Russian and Western communities a true, objective picture of the interethnic situation in Russia, of the condition and situation of small peoples and national minorities of the Russian Federation. The meaning of this will be weighty for the alteration of social thought and social consciousness of Russian citizens on the self-worth of all nationalities, on the necessity of their defense from further “internationalization.” But this should help free the Western community from illusions and hypnosis of the democratic phraseology of Russian politicians. The West is so hypnotized that after some interference in connection with events in Chechnya, it still continues to look at Russia as a country which supposedly is going along the course of forming a democracy, civil society, legal state. Where else can the lack of understanding of Russian reality yet go, if after what happened in Chechnya Russia was accepted to the European Council?!
But even digressing from Chechen events, the relationship on the whole of the Russian leadership toward the factor of the multinationality of the country cannot but evoke a multitude of questions precisely from the position of human rights. This particularly concerns small nationalities, ethnic groups and national minorities. With respect to them, even if there is not outwardly visible blood, all the same the necessary conditions for their free development and genuine self-determination will not be ensured.
Unlike some Turkish and Caucasian peoples (for example, the Tatars or the Chechens) other non-Russian peoples envisage their future as being autonomous part of the Russian Federation. This position proceeds from taking into account the real factors of historical processes (the number of the people, the closeness of its settlement, national overlapping etc.).
The Russian leadership on its part will have to take the road of creating a truly federal state, allowing even elements of confederation with observance on the sovereign rights to free development of all peoples and national minorities not having an administrative-territorial formation of their own.
These processes, as a feature of the historical past and modern life, have much in common with the historical development and present-day situation of the Australian aboriginal, the Indians in USA, the Eskimos in Greenland and Canada, the Saamis in Scandinavian countries, etc. The problems of small nations and national minorities of Russia have not yet been studied in comparison with similar situations in wider international context. The other approach has been that the collective and individual rights of a human being must not depend on the person’s nationality.
I would like to hope, that the result of this research would be useful for the participants of the Congress, because information from Moscow on the problems of nationalities in Russia expresses only the Russian point of view. This paper represents the inside of the problem from the point of view of a representative of a small nation’s intelligentsia, of a participant of the national-democratic movement.
Thus, the picture of the current situation of the non-Russian peoples of Russia is mixed and for many of them downright desolate.
However, one would like to believe that not all is lost for a small nations and ethnic minorities. The worry about future brought into life the social-cultural and political-national movements. Their activity is connected with the hope, that not all the chances have been lost and it is still possible to out an end to dropping national cultures and disappearance of the languages. These movements, the movement for the protection of human rights, all humanity must apply all possible efforts so that Russia will arrive in the civilized world not having lost from the face of the Earth even one, even the very smallest ethnic community.