Vladimir Putin: Russia – The Ethnicity Issue

Jan 23, 2012
http://www.russkiymir.ru/russkiymir/en/publications/articles/article0235.html
For Russia – with its diversity of languages, traditions, ethnic groups, and cultures – the ethnic issue is without any exaggeration fundamental. Any responsible politician or public figure must realize that civil and interethnic accord is one of the chief conditions of the very existence of our country.

We see what is going on in the world and what very serious risks are piling up here. The reality of today is growth in interethnic and interfaith tension. Nationalism and religious intolerance are becoming the ideological base for the most radical groups and trends. They are destroying and undermining states and dividing societies.

The colossal streams of migration – and there is every reason to assume that they will intensify – are already being called a new “great migration of peoples” able to change the customary way of life and look of entire continents. Millions of people in search of a better life are leaving regions suffering from hunger and chronic conflicts, poverty, and an unsettled social state.

The most developed and prosperous countries that were formerly proud of their tolerance have run right into the “exacerbated ethnic issue.” And today – one after another – they are declaring the failure of the attempts to integrate the element with a different culture into society and secure no-conflict, harmonious interaction of different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups.

The “melting pot” of assimilation is misfiring and smoking – and it is not capable of “digesting” the ever-increasing large-scale migration flow. “Multiculturalism” that rejects integration through assimilation became the reflection of this in politics. It raises the “right of the minority to be different” to an absolute and in the process does not offset this right sufficiently – with civic, behavioral, and cultural responsibilities in relation to the native population and to society as a whole.

Closed ethnic-religious communities that refuse not only to be assimilated but even to adapt are becoming established in many countries. We know of quarters and entire cities where already generations of newcomers live on social benefits and do not speak the language of the country that they are living in. The response to such a model of behavior is growth in xenophobia among the local native population and an attempt to harshly protect its interests, jobs, and social blessings – from “competitors born elsewhere.” People are shocked by the aggressive pressure on their traditions and customary way of life and are earnestly afraid of the threat of losing their national-state identity.

Perfectly respectable European politicians are beginning to speak of the failure of the “multicultural project.” In order to preserve their positions, they exploit the “ethnic card” – they move to the field of those whom they personally used to consider marginals and radicals. Extreme forces, in their turn, drastically build up influence, seriously laying claim to state power. Essentially it is being proposed to talk about forced assimilation – against the background of the “closed status” and drastic toughening of the migration rules. Bearers of a different culture are supposed to either “dissolve into the majority” or remain a separate national minority – perhaps even one provided with various rights and guarantees. But in fact they find themselves removed from the possibility of a successful career. Let me say outright that it is difficult to expect loyalty toward his country from a citizen who has been placed in such conditions.

Behind the “failure of the multicultural project” is a crisis of the very model of the “national state” – a state that was historically constructed exclusively on the basis of ethnic identity. And that is a serious challenge that both Europe and many other regions of the world will encounter.

Russia as a “Historical State”

Despite all the external similarity, the situation in our country is fundamentally different. Our ethnic and migration problems are directly linked with the destruction of the USSR, and essentially historically – of greater Russia, which became established on its own basis back in the 18th century. With the deterioration of state, social, and economic institutions that inevitably followed that. With the enormous break in development in post-Soviet space.

After declaring sovereignty 20 years ago, the at that time deputies of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), in the ardor of the struggle against the “Union Center,” launched the process of building “national states,” and even within the Russian Federation itself at that. In its turn, the “Union Center,” trying to pressure opponents, began to play a behind-the-scenes game with the Russian autonomies, promising them higher “national-state status.” Now the participants in these processes are shifting the blame on one another. But one thing is obvious – their actions to an equal degree and inevitably were leading to dissolution and separatism. And they did not find either the courage, or the responsibility, or the political will to consistently and persistently defend the territorial integrity of the Motherland.

What perhaps the initiators of the “undertaking with the sovereignties” perhaps did not realize – all the others, including people outside the borders of our state, understood very clearly and rapidly. And the consequences were not long in coming.

With the dissolution of the country, we found ourselves on the brink, and in certain well known regions – past it and into civil war, and, moreover, specifically on ethnic grounds.

We managed to extinguish these hotbeds with enormous exertion of efforts and great sacrifices. But that, of course, does not mean that the problem has been eliminated.

But even at that moment when the state as an institution had become critically weakened, Russia did not disappear. What Vasily Klyuchevsky was talking about as applies to the first Russian Time of Troubles occurred: “When the political bonds of public order broke down, the country was saved by the moral will of the people.”

And, by the way, our 4 November holiday – the Day of National Unity, which some people superficially call the “day of victory over the Poles,” is in reality the “day of victory over ourselves,” over the internal hostility and discord when the classes and nationalities became aware of themselves as a unified commonality – as a single people. We can by rights consider this holiday the day of the birth of our civil nation.

Historically Russia is not an ethnic state and not an American “melting pot” where generally speaking everyone to one degree or another is a migrant. Russia arose and developed over the centuries as a multinational state. A state in which the process of mutual familiarization, mutual penetration, and the mixing of peoples on a family, friendship, and work level was constantly underway. Hundreds of ethnic groups living on their own land together with and alongside Russians. The development of enormous territories that filled the entire history of Russia was the joint work of many peoples. Suffice it to say that ethnic Ukrainians live in the space from the Carpathians to Kamchatka. Just as ethnic Tatars, Jews, and Belarusians do…

In one of the earliest Russian philosophical and religious works, Sermon on Law and Grace, the very theory of a “chosen people” is rejected and the idea of equality before God is preached. And in the Tale of Bygone Years (The Primary Chronicle), this is how the multinational character of the ancient Russian state is described: “Here are just those who speak Slavic in Rus (ancient Russia): Polans, Drevlians, Novgorod Slavs, Polochans, Dregoviches, Severians, Buzhans… And here are other peoples – Chud, Merya, Ves, Muroma, Cheremis, Mordva, Perm, Pechera, Yam, Litva, Korsh, Neroma, and Liv – these speak their own languages…”

It was specifically about this special character of the Russian state system that Ivan Ilyin wrote: “Do not eradicate, do not pressure, and do not enslave foreign blood and do not strangle the life of a different tribe and a different Slav, but allow everyone to breathe and give them the great Motherland… watch over everyone, reconcile everyone, allow everyone to pray in his own way and work in his own way, and recruit the best from everywhere for state and cultural construction.”

The core that binds the fabric of this unique civilization is the Russian people and Russian culture. It is specifically this core that different types of provocateurs and our enemies will make every effort to try and tear out of Russia – through altogether phony talk about the right of Russians to self-determination, about “racial purity,” and about the need to “finish the cause of 1991 and for good destroy the empire that lives off the Russian people.” In order ultimately to make people destroy their own Motherland with their own hands.

I am profoundly convinced that attempts to preach the ideas of building a Russian “national,” mono-ethnic state are contrary to our entire thousand-year history. What is more, this is the shortest path to the destruction of the Russian people and the Russian state system. And in fact any viable, sovereign state system on our land.

When people begin to shout – “Stop feeding the Caucasus” – wait and tomorrow the appeal will inevitably follow – “Stop feeding Siberia, the Far East, the Urals, the Volga Region, and the Moscow Region…” Those who were leading the way to the dissolution of the Soviet Union were acting under precisely those formulas. As for the notorious national self-determination, which politicians of the most varied orientations – from Vladimir Lenin to Woodrow Wilson – speculated on more than once while fighting for power and geopolitical dividends, the Russian people defined themselves long ago. The self-determination of the Russian people is the poly-ethnic civilization bound by the Russian cultural core. And the Russian people have affirmed this choice time after time – and not in plebiscites and referendums but by blood. By our entire thousand-year history.

A Common Cultural Code

The Russian experience of state development is unique. We are a multinational society, but we are a single people. That makes our country complex and multidimensional. It provides colossal opportunities for development in many fields. However, if a multinational society is infected by the bacilli of nationalism, it loses strength and endurance. And we must understand what far-reaching consequences tolerance of attempts to inflame national hostility and hatred for peoples of a different culture and a different faith can produce.

Civil peace and interethnic accord are not a picture that is created one time and is frozen for centuries. On the contrary, it means constant changes over time and dialogue. It is the painstaking work of the state and society that demands very subtle decisions and a weighed and wise policy able to ensure “unity in diversity.” It is necessary not only to observe mutual obligations, but also to find values common for everyone. People cannot be made to be together using force. And they cannot be forced to live together by calculation, on the basis of weighing the benefits and costs. Such “calculations” work until a moment of crisis. But at the moment of crisis, they begin to operate in the opposite direction.

The confidence that we can ensure harmonious development of the poly-cultural society relies on our culture, history, and type of identity.

You may recall that many citizens of the USSR who found themselves abroad called themselves Russians. What is more, they considered themselves such regardless of their ethnic affiliation. It is interesting that ethnic Russians never, nowhere and in no emigration, constituted stable national diaspora groups, even though in terms of numbers and quality, they were very significantly represented. Because there is a different cultural code in our identity.

The Russian people are a state-forming people – based on the fact of the existence of Russia. The great mission of Russians is to unite and bind the civilization. By language, culture, and “universal responsiveness,” in Fedor Dostoyevskiy’s definition, to bind Russian Armenians, Russian Azeris, Russian Germans, and Russian Tatars… To bind them in this type of state civilization where there are no “national minorities” but the principle of recognition of “belonging” is determined by a common culture and common values.

This kind of civilization identity is based on preserving the Russian dominant cultural idea whose bearers are not only ethnic Russians, but also all bearers of that identity regardless of nationality. It is the cultural code that has been subjected to serious hardships in recent years, that people have tried and are trying to break. But all the same it has undoubtedly been preserved. At the same time, it must be nourished, strengthened, and protected.

An enormous role here belongs to education. The choice of an educational program and the diversity of education are our unquestionable achievement. But the diversity must rely on unwavering values and basic knowledge and ideas of the world. The civic task of education and the system of education is to give each person the absolutely mandatory amount of human knowledge that makes up the basis of the self-identity of the people. And above all it should be a matter of raising the role in the education process of such subjects as the Russian language, Russian literature, and domestic history – naturally in the context of the entire wealth of ethnic traditions and cultures.

In some leading American universities in the 1920s, a movement took shape for studying Western cultural canon. Each self-respecting student was supposed to read 100 books on a specially formed list. In some US universities, this tradition has been preserved even today. Our nation was always a reading nation. Let us conduct a poll of our cultural authorities and form a list of the 100 books that each graduate of a Russian school will have to read. Not memorize in school but specifically read on his own. And let us make an essay on a topic read a graduation exam. Or at least let us give young people the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and their worldview in olympiads and competitions.

State policy in the area of culture should set the corresponding requirements too. I mean such instruments as television, films, the Internet, and mass culture as a whole, which shape social consciousness and provide models and standards of behavior.

Let us recall how the Americans with the help of Hollywood shaped the consciousness of several generations. What is more, by introducing not the worst – both from the standpoint of national interests and from the standpoint of public morals – values. We have something to learn here.

Let me emphasize that no one is encroaching on the freedom of creativity – this is not about censorship of speech and not about an “official ideology,” but about the idea that the state has the duty and the right to direct both its own efforts and its own resources to accomplishing recognized social and public tasks. Among them to shape the worldview that binds the nation.

In our country, where the civil war has not yet ended in the minds of many and where the past is extremely politicized and “broken up” into ideological quotations (often interpreted by different people in exactly opposite ways), subtle cultural therapy is needed. A cultural policy that on all levels – from school textbooks to historical document studies – would form the kind of understanding of the unity of the historical process where the representative of each ethnic group, just like a descendant of a “red commissar” or a “White officer,” would see his place. He would feel that he is an heir of “one for all” – the contradictory and tragic but great history of Russia.

We need a nationality policy strategy based on civic patriotism. Any person living in our country must not forget about his faith and ethnic affiliation. But he must above all be a citizen of Russia and be proud of that. No one has the right to place distinctive ethnic and religious features above the laws of the state. But at the same time, the laws of the state themselves must take into account the distinctive ethnic and religious features.

I believe that a special structure responsible for issues of ethnic development, interethnic prosperity, and the interaction of ethnic groups must be created in the system of federal organs of power. At this point these problems are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Regional Development, and they are pushed behind the pile of routine tasks as being of secondary or even minor importance, and that situation needs to be rectified.

It should not be a standard department. Instead it should be a matter of a collegial organ that interacts directly with the president of the country and with the leadership of the government and has certain government powers. Nationalities policy cannot be written and implemented only in the offices of officials. Ethnic and public associations should participate directly in its discussion and formation.

And of course, we are counting on the active participation in this dialogue of the traditional religions of Russia. Despite all their differences and distinctive features, the basic, common moral, ethical, and spiritual values are based on Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism – compassion, mutual assistance, truth, justice, respect for elders, and the ideals of family and work. It is impossible to replace these value guidelines with anything, and we need to strengthen them.

I am certain that the state and society must welcome and support the work of Russia’s traditional religions in the system of education and enlightenment, in the social sphere, and in the Armed Forces. At the same time, the secular character of our state must undoubtedly be preserved. The Nationalities Policy and the Role of Strong Institutions

The systemic problems of society very often find an outlet in the form of interethnic tension. We must always remember that there is a direct dependence among unresolved social and economic problems, the flaws of the law enforcement system, the ineffectiveness of power, corruption, and conflicts on ethnic grounds. If we look at the history of all the recent interethnic excesses – practically everywhere we will discover this “trigger” – Kondapoga, Manezh Square, and Sagra. Everywhere there is an over-reaction to the absence of justice and to the irresponsibility and idleness of certain representatives of the state, lack of faith in equality before the law, impunity for the criminal, and the conviction that everything has been bought and there is no truth.

When talk turns to the idea that in Russia, and in particular in the historical Russian territories, the rights of Russians are being encroached upon, it suggests that the state structures are not performing their direct tasks – they are not protecting the life, rights, and security of citizens. And since the majority of these citizens are Russians, the possibility arises to capitalize on the topic of the “national oppression of the Russians” and clothe justified social protest in the most primitive and vulgar form of interethnic rioting. And at the same time to wail about “Russian fascism” at every opportunity.

We must be aware of the risks and threats that are inherent in situations that are in danger of moving into the stage of an ethnic conflict. And in the appropriate, toughest way, without considering positions or ranks, evaluate the actions or inaction of the law enforcement structures and the organs of government that led to the interethnic tension.

There are not a great many formulas for such situations. Not to raise anything to a principle, not to make rash generalizations. A careful clarification of the essence of the problem and the circumstances and settlement of mutual grievances on each particular case where the “ethnic issue” is involved are needed. Where there are no specific circumstances, this process must be public, because the lack of operational information brings forth rumors that make the situation worse. And here the professionalism and responsibility of the mass media are exceptionally important.

But there can be no dialogue in a situation involving rioting and violence. No one must get the slightest temptation to “pressure the regime” toward particular solutions using pogroms. Our law enforcement organs have proven that they handle stopping these attempts quickly and effectively.

And one more principled feature is that we, of course, must develop our democratic, multiparty system. Decisions focused on simplifying and liberalizing the registration procedure and the work of political parties are already being prepared today, and proposals to establish the election of the heads of regions are being implemented. All these are necessary and appropriate steps. But there is one thing that must not be permitted – opportunities for the creation of regional parties, including in the national republics. That is the direct path to separatism. Such a demand should undoubtedly be made on the elections of the heads of the regions – anyone who tries to rely on ethnic, separatist, and similar types of forces and circles must be immediately excluded from the election process within the framework of democratic and judicial procedure.

The Problem of Migration and Our Integration Project

Today citizens are seriously upset and let me say outright – angry – at the many costs related to mass migration – both external and inside Russia. The question is also heard of whether the creation of the Eurasian Union will lead to greater migration flows, and hence, to the growth in the problems that exist here. I believe that our position needs to be laid out very clearly.

In the first place, it is obvious that we need to raise the quality of the state’s migration policy many times over. And we will try to accomplish this task.

Illegal migration can never be precluded altogether everywhere, but it must and undoubtedly can be minimized. And on this level the clear-cut police functions and powers of the migration services must be strengthened.

But a simple mechanical toughening of migration policy will not yield a result. In many countries such toughening leads only to increasing the proportion of illegal migration. The criterion of migration policy is not in its degree of toughness but in its effectiveness.

In connection with this, the policy in relation to legal migration – both permanent and temporary – must be differentiated as precisely as possible. That in turn envisions obvious priorities and advantageous rules in migration policy in favor of skills, competence, competitiveness, and cultural and behavioral compatibility. Such a “positive selection” and competition over the quality of migration exists throughout the entire world. There is no need to talk about the idea that such migrants are integrated into the host society much better and more easily.

The second point. In our country internal migration is developing quite vigorously, and people go t o study, live, and work in other subjects of the Federation and to the large cities. What is more, they are full-fledged citizens of Russia.

At the same time, whoever comes to regions with other cultural and historical traditions must treat the local customs with respect. The customs of the Russian and all other peoples of Russia. Any other behavior that is inappropriate, aggressive, provocative, or disrespectful must meet the appropriate legal but tough response, above all from the organs of power, which are often simply indifferent today. We must look to see that all the norms needed to control such behavior by people are contained in the Administrative and Criminal Codes and in the regulations of the internal affairs organs. It is a matter of toughening the law and introducing criminal responsibility for violation of migration rules and norms of registration. Sometimes a warning is sufficient. But if the warning relies on a particular legal norm, it will be more effective. It will be understood appropriately – not as the opinion of a particular policeman or official, but specifically as a requirement of the law that is the same for everyone.

A civilized framework is also important in internal migration. Among other things this is needed for the harmonious development of the social infrastructure, medicine, education, and the labor market. In many regions and megalopolises that are “attractive to migration,” these systems are already operating to the limit now, which creates quite a complicated situation both for the “natives” and for the “newcomers.”

I believe that we should start making the rules for registration and sanctions for violating them tougher. Naturally without violating the constitutional rights of citizens to choose a place of residence.

The third point is strengthening the judicial system and constructive effective law enforcement organs. This is fundamentally important not only for external migration but in our case, for internal as well, notably migration from the regions of the North Caucasus. Without that objective arbitration of the interests of different communities (of both the host majority and the migrants) and perception of the migration situation as safe and fair can never be secured.

What is more, the incompetence or corrupt nature of the court and the police will always lead not only to the dissatisfaction and radicalization of the society receiving the migrants, but also to “gangland-type settling of scores” and a shadow criminalized economy taking root amid the migrants themselves.

We must not permit the emergence in our country of closed, isolated ethnic enclaves where often it is not laws that operate but various kinds of “criminal codes.” And above all the rights of the migrants themselves are violated – both by their own crime bosses and by corrupt officials from the government.

Ethnic crime flourishes specifically on corruption. From the legal standpoint, crime groups built on the ethnic, clan principle are in no way better than ordinary gangs. But in our conditions ethnic crime is not only a criminal problem but also a problem of state security. And it must be treated in the appropriate way.

The fourth point is the problem of the civilized integration and socialization of migrants. And here it is necessary to once again turn to the problems of education. It should not be a matter so much of the orientation of the educational system to resolving problems of migration policy (that is by no means the chief task of schools) but above all of high standards of domestic education as such.

The attractiveness of education and its value is a powerful lever, a motivator of integration behavior for migrants on the level of integration into society. While the low quality of education always makes migration communities even more isolated and closed, only now it is for the long term, on the level of generations.

It is important to us that migrants be able to adapt normally to society. Yes, strictly speaking a fundamental requirement for people who wish to live and work in Russia is their willingness to assimilate our culture and language. Starting next year an exam on the Russian language, on the history of Russia and Russian literature, and on the foundations of our state and law should be made mandatory for acquiring or extending migration status. Our state, like other civilized countries, is willing to form and offer migrants the appropriate educational programs. In some cases mandatory additional occupational training at employers’ expense is required.

And finally, the fifth point is close integration in post-Soviet space as a real alternative to uncontrolled migration flows.

The objective reasons for mass migration – this was already discussed above – are the colossal inequality in development and conditions of existence. Of course, reducing this inequality would be a logical way if not to eliminate, at least to minimize migration flows. An enormous number of various kinds of humanitarian and leftist activists in the West are advocating that. But unfortunately, on the global scale, this beautiful, ethically irreproachable position suffers from obvious utopianism.

But there are no objective obstacles to realizing this logic in our country and in our historical space. And one of the most important tasks of Eurasian integration is to create for peoples and the millions of people in this space the opportunity to live and develop in a dignified way.

We understand that it is not because life is so good that people travel miles away from home – and frequently in uncivilized conditions – to earn the possibility of a decent existence for themselves and their families.

From this standpoint, the tasks that we are setting both within the country (the creation of a new economy with effective employment, the restoration of professional communities, and equal development of production forces and the social infrastructure throughout the country’s entire territory) and the tasks of Eurasian integration are key instruments for making it possible to bring migration flows to a normal level. Essentially, on the one hand, to direct migrants to places where they will cause the least social tension. And on the other – so that people in their home regions and in their small homeland can feel normal and comfortable. People must simply be given the opportunity to work and live normally in their own homes, in their native land, an opportunity that for the most part, they are deprived of now. There are no simple solutions in nationalities policy, and there cannot be. Its elements are scattered throughout all spheres of life of the state and society – in economics, the social sphere, education, the political system, and foreign policy. We need to build the kind of model of the state and a civilized community with the kind of system that will absolutely be equally attractive and harmonious for everyone who considers Russia his Motherland.

We can see the areas where work needs to be done. We understand that we have historical experience that no one else has. We have a powerful support base in mentality, in culture, and in identity that others do not have.

We will strengthen our “historical state” that we inherited from our ancestors. The state-civilization that is inherently able to work to accomplish the task of the integration of different ethnic groups and faiths.

We have lived together for centuries. Together we were victorious in a most terrible war. And we will continue to live together. And I can say one thing to those who want or are trying to divide us – don’t hold your breath.

Vladimir Putin
Nezavisimaya Gazeta

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