Criticism of Russia’s dishonest minority policy

Sarah Reinke
Crisis in Ukraine: Russian President Putin instrumentalizes minorities

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) accuses Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of trying to establish a dishonest minority policy. The human rights organization – which has been fighting for the minority groups in Russia for more than 40 years – criticizes that Putin continues to misuse minority politics while ignoring their rights and demands systematically. “President Putin is playing the minority card – but only to protect the Russian minority! …and only because it might be an advantage for him, as he believes he can use the issue to fool the EU,” criticized Sarah Reinke, CIS-consultant for the Society for Threatened Peoples in Berlin. He repeatedly advocated for the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states, accusing the EU and the Council of Europe of double standards at the same time. It is dishonest of him to try and depict the Russian government as a protecting power for the Russians in the Crimea, because many of the minority groups, ethnic groups, religious communities and indigenous peoples in Russia are increasingly discriminated against, persecuted, oppressed or even fought openly, as in the case of Chechnya.”

“Putin has a colonial approach to vast areas of the Russian Federation – be it the North Caucasus, which was conquered in the 19th century, or parts of Siberia where there are oil and gas reserves as well as mineral resources that ensure Russia’s economic power,” said Reinke. Several indigenous peoples have been living in these areas for centuries, but they are more and more suppressed or discriminated against. In Russia – where the parliament, the judiciary system and the media are focused on Putin and where the opposition was ignored for years –members of minority groups often experience xenophobic attacks or arbitrariness by the police and the judicial system.

The war in Chechnya as an example for the instrumentalization of the minority groups:

The Chechen war and its consequences can be seen as a dramatic example for President Putin’s minority politics. The beginning of the second Chechen War also marks Putin’s advancement as the main wire puller of the Russian government. Harsh words and brutality against the people of Chechnya helped Putin to win the presidential elections in March 2000. He ordered the Russian Air Force to attack towns, villages, schools, refugee convoys and hospitals. Tens of thousands of men and women were detained in so-called filtration camps, where they were raped, tortured and killed. Russian soldiers committed terrible crimes against civilians during the so-called “cleansing” of Chechen villages. This second Chechen war claimed 80,000 victims. The first Chechen War (1992-1994) under President Boris Yeltsin had also cost about 80,000 lives. Ramzan Kadyrov – who was appointed as Putin’s protégé – is now running the country as a dictator.

War and terrorism have spread from Chechnya to the neighboring republics of Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia and Karachay-Cherkessia. Putin’s politics helped to establish prejudices against Caucasians in the Russian society. In Moscow or St. Petersburg, they are often policed or attacked – and they have considerable difficulties on the housing or employment market.

The freedom of the press and the freedom of expression were seriously limited under President Putin. The Russian media are misused to stir up xenophobic tendencies until today. Putin is currently trying to use the media to agitate against the new government in Kiev and to act up as the savior of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine.

Oppression of indigenous peoples and dying minority languages in the Russian Federation:

On average, the members of the more than 40 indigenous peoples (nationalities with less than 50,000 members) in Russia live ten years less than the ethnic Russians. They are marginalized and often become victims of discrimination and racism. Following the last general assembly in 2013, their umbrella organization RAIPON was sworn to the Kremlin based on massive election fraud. Anyone who tries to advocate for the rights of the indigenous peoples risks being questioned by the FSB and to be silenced with tedious court proceedings.

According to the UNESCO, 131 of the 170 languages spoken in the Russian Federation are at risk. The Russian government adopted a new education law last year, once again confirming the supremacy of the Russian language. Schools lessons in minority languages are only optional, while there is also a significant lack of learning opportunities, teachers, textbooks or media for the minorities.

Law on compatriots

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, there are currently about 25 million Russians living abroad. Russia is trying to make them return, while investing large sums of money in trying to further the Russian language and culture in states with large Russian population groups. Since 2006, there are programs that focus on attracting “compatriots”. These programs however do not apply for every population group that defines itself as a part of today’s Russian Federation. For example, the Circassians – who were collectively deported after the Caucasian War 150 years ago and who would like to leave the civil war zone in Syria and return to Russia – are excluded. If they apply for visas, they will most probably be rejected. Recently, in the middle of February, three Circassian-born students who had moved from Syria to Russia were forced to leave the country again.

Victims of human rights violations in Ukraine mocked:

About 25 percent of the rural population in the south and east of the former Ukrainian Soviet Republic starved in 1932/33. The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin had consciously organized the famine in Ukraine in order to break any resistance against the enforced collectivization. Historians estimate that there were about 4-6 million victims during the genocide, which is known as the Holodomor. This Russian government never admitted the crimes. On the contrary, the Russian leadership tried to thwart initiatives of the Ukraine to have the genocide crimes recognized internationally.

The Crimean Tatars are to be seen as the original native population of the Crimea. They were deported by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1944. The Russian-speaking population living in Crimea today largely settled in the area during the 18th century after the Tsarist Empire had taken the peninsula from the Ottoman Empire. The rulers had granted the khanate of the Crimean Tatars significant autonomy, trying to win over their loyalty.

On May 18, 2014, the Crimean Tatars will commemorate the deportation of their ancestors under the command of Stalin in 1944. Stalin had ordered all Crimean Tatars to be loaded on cattle wagons and to be deported to Central Asia. Up to 44 percent of the deportees died. This genocide is to be seen as one of the worst crimes in European history, together with other deportations conducted by the Soviet Union at that time. Thus, significant efforts were made to obliterate all traces of the Crimean Tatars. Their houses were torn down, their gardens were left to grow wild and their cemeteries were dug up to remove the remains of the people’s ancestors. Everything that was written in the Crimean Tatar language was burned. The Crimean Tatars repeatedly sent appeals to the various Soviet governments from their exiles in Central Asia. They intensified their attempts to be able to return after an appeal signed by more than 120,000 Crimean Tatars was ignored and after the initiators had been sent to labour camps. 4,000 representatives visited Moscow – and the people were finally able to return to their homeland in the late 1980s. Mustafa Dschemilew, who survived being deported when he was a child, was the central figure of the return movement. He spent 15 years in Soviet prison camps and was not released before the fall of the Eastern Bloc. In 1991, he was elected President of the Crimean Tatar Parliament and committed himself to fighting for Ukrainian independence. After the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, ethnic Russians took over their land and in their villages in Crimea.


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