Monday, January 23, 2012
Russia: The national question
by Vladimir Putin
For Russia – with its wide range of languages, traditions, ethnicities, and cultures – the national question is, without exaggeration, of fundamental importance. Any responsible politician or public figure must recognize that one of the main conditions of our country’s very existence is civil and interethnic harmony.
We see what is happening in the world, the serious risks that are accumulating. Escalating interethnic and interreligious tensions are today’s reality. Nationalism and religious intolerance are becoming an ideological base for some of the most radical groups and movements – destroying or eroding states, and dividing societies.
The colossal immigration flows – and we have every reason to assume that they will continue to grow – are already being referred to as the new “Great Human Migration”, capable of shifting the familiar structure and image of entire continents. Millions of people, in search for a better life, are leaving regions stricken by hunger and chronic conflict, poverty and social unrest.
Some of the world’s most developed and prosperous countries, which had previously boasted about their tolerance, have come face-to-face with the “intensification of the national question”. And today, one after another, they have had to admit their failure to integrate outside cultural elements into society and ensure a peaceful, harmonious interaction between various cultures, religions, and ethnic groups.
The “melting pot” of assimilation is stalling and smoking, unable to “digest” the growing migration flow. In politics, a reflection of this fact has been “multiculturalism”, which rejects the notion of integration through assimilation. It elevates the “right of minorities to be different” to the absolute and, at the same time, fails to balances this right with civil, behavioral, and cultural obligations with regard to the indigenous population and society as a whole.
In many countries, closed national and religious communities are forming, which not only refuse to assimilate, but will not even adapt. There are neighborhoods and entire cities where generations of immigrants are living on welfare and do not speak the language of the host country. The response to this situation has been a rise of xenophobia among indigenous populations in an attempt to protect their interests, jobs, and social benefits from the “foreign competitors”. People are shocked by the aggressive pressure on their traditions and way of life, and are seriously threatened by the possibility of losing their national identity.
Some respectable European politicians are starting to talk about the failure of the “multiculturalism project”. In order to hold on to their positions, they exploit the “ethnic card” – siding with those whom they had earlier considered marginal and radical. Extremist forces, in turn, are rapidly gaining momentum, making claims to state power. In essence, talk of forced assimilation is being proposed against a background of “aloofness” and sharp tightening of migration regimes. People of different cultures must either “dissolve in the majority” or remain an isolated national minority – albeit with various rights and guarantees. In practice, it means being cut off from the possibility of a successful career. I’ll be frank – it is hard to expect a citizen who has been subjected to such conditions to be loyal to his country.
Behind the “failure of the multicultural project” stands the crisis of the very model of a “nation-state” – a state historically built exclusively on the basis of ethnic identity. And that is a serious challenge which will be faced in Europe and many other regions of the world.
Russia as a ‘historic state’
Despite all the superficial similarities, our situation is fundamentally different. Our national and immigration problems are directly linked to the collapse of the Soviet Union and, in essence, Greater Russia, whose historic foundations were built back in the 18th century. To the subsequent inevitable degradation of state, social, and economic institutions. To the enormous gap in development on the post-Soviet territory.
Having declared sovereignty 20 years ago, the then-deputies of the RSFSR, amid a fight against the “union center”, launched the creation of “nation-states” – even within the Russian Federation itself. The “union center”, in turn, while trying to put pressure on its opponents, engaged in a behind-the-scenes game with Russian autonomies, promising to raise their “national and statehood identity.” Today, the participants in these processes are pointing the finger at one another. But one thing is clear – their actions led inevitably to disintegration and separatism. They did not have the courage, or the responsibility, or the political will to successfully and insistently defend the territorial integrity of the Motherland.
That which the initiators of the “sovereignty-related undertakings” had, perhaps, failed to realize, was very clearly and rapidly understood by everyone else – including those living outside of our state. And the consequences were immediate.
After the country’s collapse, we found ourselves on the verge of, and in certain regions, beyond the brink of a civil war, one that was ethnically motivated. With great efforts and great sacrifice, we were able to subdue these flashpoints. But that, of course, does not mean that the problem has been resolved.
However, even at a time when the state, as an institution, was critically weakened, Russia did not disappear. What happened was exactly the process described by Vasily Klyuchevsky, writing about the first Russian revolution: “When the political ties of public order fractured, the country was rescued by the moral will of the people.”
Incidentally, our November 4th holiday – National Unity Day – which some superficially call “the day of victory over the Poles,” is in reality “the day of victory over oneself,” over internal animosity and strife, when classes and nationalities acknowledge themselves as being one community – one nation. We have the right to consider this holiday the birthday of our civil nation.
The historic Russia is neither an ethnic state nor an American “melting pot”, where everyone is, one way or another, an immigrant. Russia emerged and for centuries developed as a multi-ethnic state – a state with an ongoing process of mutual adjustment, mutual understanding, and unification of people through families, friendship and work, with hundreds of ethnicities living together on the same land. The development of these vast territories, which has filled the whole of Russian history, was a collective effort of many nations. Suffice it to say that ethnic Ukrainians live on the territory, stretching from the Carpathians to Kamchatka – just as do ethnic Tatars, Jews, Belarusians…
One of Russia’s earliest philosophical and religious works, The Sermon on Law and Grace, rejects the very theory of a Chosen People and preaches the idea of equality before God. Meanwhile, the Primary Chronicle illustrates the multiethnic nature of the Old Russian state as follows: “Everyone speaks Slavic in the Rus: Polans, Drevlians, Novgorodians, Polochany, Dregovichs, Northerners, Buzhans…But other peoples: Chud, Meria, Ves, Muroma, Cheremis, Mordvins, Perm, Pechera, Yam, Lithuania, Kors, Narova, Livs – these have their own languages…”
It is this special quality of Russian statehood that was outlined in Ivan Ilyin’s works: “Not to eliminate, not to suppress, not to enslave other people’s blood, not to stifle the life of different tribes and religions – but to give everyone breath and the great Russia…to honor all, to reconcile all, to allow everyone to pray in their own way, to work in their own way, and to engage the best in public and cultural development.”
The core, the binding fabric of this unique civilization – is the Russian people, Russian culture. And it is this core that various instigators and our opponents will make every effort to tear out of Russia – with false assertions about Russians’ right to self-determination, “racial purity”, the need to “finish the job of 1991 and complete the destruction of the empire, sitting on the necks of the Russian people” – in order to ultimately force people to destroy their Motherland with their own hands.
I am deeply convinced that attempts to promote the idea of creating a Russian “national” mono-ethnic state contradict our thousand-year-old history. Moreover, it is the shortest path towards the destruction of the Russian nation and Russian statehood – as well as any viable sovereign statehood in our land.
When they start screaming: “Stop feeding the Caucasus,” just wait, as tomorrow a new call will inevitably follow: “Stop feeding Siberia, the Far East, the Ural, Volga, Moscow region…” This is the recipe followed by those who brought the Soviet Union to collapse. As for the infamous idea of national self-determination, which has been speculated on repeatedly by various politicians – from Vladimir Lenin to Woodrow Wilson – while fighting for power and political dividends, the Russian people have long self-determined themselves. Self-determination of the Russian people – a poly-ethnic civilization, held together by a Russian cultural core. This determination has been confirmed many times over by the Russian people – and not in plebiscites or referendums, but with blood. Throughout the entire 1,000 years of history.
A shared cultural code
The Russian experience of national development is unique. We are a multi-ethnic society, but we are one people. This makes our country complex and multidimensional, providing colossal opportunities for development in many areas. However, if a multi-ethnic society is struck by the bacilli of nationalism, it loses its strength and stability. And we must understand the types of far-reaching effects that can come as a result of condoning attempts to incite ethnic strife and hatred toward people with different cultures and different beliefs.
Civil peace and inter-ethnic accord is not a once-established and forever-set-in-stone picture. On the contrary, it is an unending dynamic, a dialogue. It is meticulous work of the state and society, requiring very delicate decisions, balanced and wise policies, capable of ensuring “unity in diversity”. It is necessary to not only adhere to mutual obligations, but also to search for common values. We cannot force people to be together. And we cannot force people to live together because it is convenient, based on weighing the costs and benefits. These “calculations” work until a crisis strikes. And when it does, they start working in reverse.
The confidence that we can ensure a harmonious development of a multicultural community is based on our culture, history and type of identity.
We recall that many citizens of the Soviet Union who found themselves abroad now call themselves Russian. And they consider themselves as being such regardless of ethnicity. It is also interesting that ethnic Russians have never, not in any emigration, formed stable national diasporas, despite having a significant quantitative and qualitative presence, because our identity has a different cultural code.
Russian people are nation-forming – on the basis of Russia’s existence. The great mission of Russians is to unite and bind our civilization. Language, culture and “universal kind-heartedness,” according to Fyodor Dostoevsky, are what bring together Russian Armenians, Russian Azerbaijanis, Russians Germans, Russian Tatars… Bring them together to form a type of state-civilization that does not have “ethnic persons” and where differentiation between “us and them” is determined by a common culture and shared values.
This civilizational identity is based on the preservation of a Russian cultural dominance, which flows not only from ethnic Russians, but all carriers of this identity regardless of nationality. This is the cultural code that has, in recent years, been subject to some serious trials, which people have tried and continue to try to break. And it has, nevertheless, prevailed. At the same time, it needs to be nourished, strengthened, and protected.
This is where education can play a great role. Our choice of educational program, the diversity of our education – are our undeniable achievements. But diversity must be based on unshakable values, fundamental knowledge and worldview. The civil goal of education, of the education system, is to give every person sufficient knowledge of the humanities to form the basis of collective self-identity. And this should mainly include an increased role being played in the education process by such subjects as the Russian language, Russian literature, and national history – of course, in the context of the entire wealth of national traditions and cultures.
A movement for the study of the Western cultural canon emerged in some of the leading American universities in the 1920s. Every self-respecting student was supposed to read 100 books from a specially-designed list. Some US universities continue to hold on to this tradition. Our nation has always been a nation of readers. Let’s survey our prominent cultural leaders and compile a list of 100 books that must be read by every Russian high school graduate – and not simply regurgitated in school, but read in their own time. And let’s make the writing of a composition based on those texts a part of the final exam. Or let’s at least give young people an opportunity to display their knowledge and worldview in competitions and contests.
Similar demands need to be made by the state policy in the field of culture. This applies to such tools as television, cinema, the Internet, and popular culture in general, which shape public opinion and set behavioral examples and norms.
Recall how, with the help of Hollywood, the US shaped the consciousness of several generations – and did so while introducing not the worst-possible values, in terms of national interests and public morality. There is something to learn here.
I’ll stress that no one is encroaching on artistic freedom – I am not talking about censorship or “official ideology,” but about the fact that the state must and has the right to direct its efforts and resources toward the resolution of recognized social and public problems. This includes the establishment of a worldview that binds the nation.
Our nation, where in the consciousness of many there is still an ongoing civil war, where the past is highly politicized and “torn” into ideological quotes (often interpreted by various people as precisely the opposite of what they should mean), requires subtle cultural therapy. A cultural policy that, on various levels – from school subsidies to historic documentation – would form an understanding of the unity of the historic process that would allow representatives of every ethnicity – as well as descendants of a “red commissioner” or a “white officer” – to find their place, to feel equal heirs of the “one for all” controversial, tragic, but great history of Russia.
We need a national policy strategy based on civil patriotism. Any person living in our country should not forget their faith and ethnicity. But before anything else, he must be a citizen of Russia and be proud. No one has the right to put ethnic and religious considerations above the state laws. However, the state laws need to take into account ethnic and religious considerations.
I believe that, within the federal government, there needs to be a special structure responsible for issues concerning national development, inter-ethnic harmony, and inter-ethnic reciprocity. Today, these problems are handled by the Ministry of Regional Development and, with the myriad of current tasks, are often relegated to second or even third place – and this situation needs to be corrected.
It doesn’t have to be a standard agency. Rather, it could be a collegial body that works directly with the country’s president, the head of the government, and has a certain amount of authority. National policy cannot be developed and implemented exclusively in the cabinets of officials. National and community organizations must be directly involved in its discussion and formation.
And, of course, we are counting on an active involvement in this dialogue of Russia’s traditional religions. The foundations of the Christian Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism – with all of their differences and peculiarities – include basic, shared moral, ethical, and spiritual values: compassion, reciprocity, truth, justice, respect for elders, family and work values. These value systems cannot be replaced by anything: and we need to reinforce them.
I am confident that the state, society, should welcome and support the work of Russia’s traditional religions in the system of education and information, in the social sphere, and in the Armed Forces. At the same time, the secular nature of our state must, of course, be preserved.
National policy and the role of strong institutions
Systemic problems in society are often expressed in the form of inter-ethnic tensions. We should always keep in mind that there is a direct correlation between unresolved socio-economic problems, flaws in the law enforcement system, government inefficiency, corruption, and ethnically-motivated conflicts. If we look at the history of all the recent inter-ethnic incidents, we will notice this “trigger” in practically all of the cases: Kondopoga, Manezh Square, Sagra.
Everywhere we are seeing a keen response to the absence of justice, the lack of responsibility and inaction of certain state representatives, impunity for criminals and disbelief in equality before the law, the conviction that everything can be bought and there is no truth.
When we start talking about infringement of the rights of Russians in Russia, and especially on Russia’s historic territories, this indicates that the government structures are failing to perform their direct obligations – to protect the rights, life and safety of citizens. And because the majority of these citizens are Russian, it becomes possible to focus on the subject of “national oppression of Russians” and cover this justified public outcry in the most primitive and vulgar form of inter-ethnic violence, while at the same time, on every possible occasion, wailing about “Russian fascism”.
We need to be aware of the risks and threats that the situations on the verge of ethnic conflicts entail. Law enforcement and government agencies, whose negligence caused ethnic tensions, must be punished, no matter how high the rank or standing of the people involved.
The range of suitable approaches is not that big. Do not assume anything, do not jump to conclusions. We need to carry out a careful investigation of what is at the core of the problem, what are the accompanying circumstances, and settle the conflict in each individual case of hate crime. Unless there are some specific circumstances, all such cases must be processed publicly because lack of transparency encourages the spread of rumors that often aggravate the situation. In this respect, high professional standards and a responsible attitude on the part of the mass media are of paramount importance.
There is no room for dialogue amidst riots and violence. No one should be tempted to pressure the authorities into specific decisions by means of civil disorders. Our law enforcement agencies have proven that they are capable of easily and efficiently suppressing any attempts at doing that.
Another important point is that we have to develop our multi-party democratic system. We are now working on measures aimed at simplifying and liberalizing the procedures of registration and work for political parties. We are working on the initiative to return the elections of regional governors. All of these things are necessary and correct steps. But there is one thing we cannot allow and that is the creation of regional parties, even in national republics. That is a direct path toward separatism. This requirement should certainly apply to the election of regional heads – those who try to rely on nationalist, separatist and similar forces and groups must be immediately, within the framework of democratic judicial procedures, excluded from the electoral process.
Migration and our Integration Project
Today, people are concerned with – or to put it straight – annoyed by the many troubles caused by mass migration, be it from other countries or different parts of Russia. Now, with the Eurasian Union project underway, people are worried that it could increase the flow of migrants and, correspondingly, aggravate existing problems. I believe we must make our position on the issue clear.
Firstly, it’s obvious that we need to revamp the government’s migration policy. And that’s something we are going to deal with.
No country in the world has been able to eliminate illegal migration completely, but it should – and can – be curbed. This is why we need to expand the relevant powers of the police and migration agencies.
However, simply tightening the screws on migrants won’t solve the problem. In many countries, such crackdowns only spur the flow of illegal migration. The principal measure of migration policy is not its toughness, but its effectiveness.
In this regard, we must clearly define our policy concerning legal migration, both temporary and permanent. This implies that the authorities should give priority and grant favored status to those migrants who are highly-qualified, competent, competitive, and are able to adapt both to the local culture and new standards of behavior. Such positive selection procedures and competition for the quality of migrant workers are common to all countries.
Of course, migrants that meet these requirements are easier and better integrated into the recipient society.
Secondly, migration within the country is very high. A lot of people leave their homes to study, live and work in other parts of Russia, in big cities. These are citizens of Russia enjoying full civil rights.
However, if you come to a region with different cultural and historical traditions, you must show respect for the local customs, for the customs of Russians or any other nation living within the country. Any other behavior – inappropriate, aggressive, outrageous or disdainful – must be tackled by a legal but tough response, first and foremost, by the local authorities who today very often neglect the situation. We need to revise the Administrative and Criminal Codes to toughen punishment for such behavior and introduce criminal responsibility for violations of migration regulations and registration rules. Sometimes it’s enough to warn a person. But if the warning is backed up by a specific regulation it will be more effective and properly interpreted – not as a private opinion of some police officer or official, but as a requirement set forth by the law equal to all people.
Of course, there should be civilized norms even for internal migration. It’s vital for the harmonious development of social infrastructure, medicine, education and the labor market. Many regions and cities which have attracted a lot of migrants are suffering from an overload in these areas. This makes the situation complicated both for the locals and the newcomers. This is why we must toughen both our registration rules and the penalties for their violation. But in doing so, we should not undermine people’s constitutional right to choose their place of residence.
Thirdly, we must bolster our judicial branch and make our law enforcement agencies work effectively. This is of paramount importance not just in tackling the issue of foreign migrants, but, in our case, in dealing with internal migration from the republics of North Caucasus. Without these pillars, we will never be able to reconcile the interests of different societies objectively (both the in-group and the out-group) and foster a perception of migration as something safe and fair.
Also, inefficiency and corruption in both the police and the courts will always result in the twin problems of growing discontent and radicalization of the host society, as well as encouraging mob behavior and a shadow black economy in the migrant community.
We must prevent the formation of isolated ethnic enclaves which, instead of being subject to federal law, are often ruled by their own set of codes. It’s the rights of the migrants themselves that will be abused in this case, both by their own underworld bosses and by corrupt officials.
It is corruption that gives rise to crimes committed by certain ethnic groups. In legal terms, crime groups built on ethnic or tribal principles are no different from regular mobs or gangs. However, our current situation is such that these ethnic criminal groups have become more than just an organized crime problem, they have become an issue of national security. And this is something we need to address.
The fourth problem is that of civilized integration and socialization of the migrants. This requires again addressing our education process. And by this I mean not so much adjusting our education system to help us solve migration policy issues (this being far from the most important task for our schools) as boosting overall education standards in the country.
Increasing the attractiveness and value of proper education is a powerful driving force that can encourage migrants to integrate effectively into the recipient society, while low-quality education cements a tendency for isolation and distancing of the migrant communities that can become a long-term tradition, spanning several generations.
It is important to us to provide appropriate conditions for migrants to adapt in society. It is elementary that people who want to live and work in Russia should be willing to learn the Russian language and assimilate into Russia's culture. Exams in Russian, Russian history, Russian literature and the basics of Russian law should be made compulsory for the granting or extension of migrant status. Like other civilized nations, Russia is ready to put forward learning programs for migrants. In a number of cases, we will need auxiliary professional training programs paid for by the migrants' employers.
My fifth suggestion is to curb chaotic migration from post-Soviet states by means of regional integration.
It has been noted before that the main factor driving mass migration in our region are the hugely unequal levels of development of post-Soviet countries. Understandably, a sensible way to curb migration, if not eliminate it completely, would be to eliminate social inequality. A large number of leftist humanitarian activists in the West have spoken in favor of this method. Regrettably, on a global scale, this ethically irreproachable idea looks like a utopia.
Nothing is stopping us from implementing this idea in our own region, however. One of the main purposes of Eurasian integration is to create decent living conditions in post-Soviet states for millions of their people to prosper.
We understand that it is poor economic situations which force migrants to leave their homes and work in uncivilized conditions to support themselves and their families.
From this standpoint, the goals we have set for Russia (a new economy with an effective employment system, revival of professional communities, proportional development of productive forces and social infrastructure across the whole country), and the goals of Eurasian integration are key to bringing migration flows under control. On the one hand, migrants will move where they will cause minimal social tensions. On the other hand, we should provide for a comfortable and decent life in their home cities and settlements. What we should do is to give people the chance to work and live normally at home, in their Motherland – a chance that most of them are currently deprived of. There are no simple solutions for national and ethnic policies. Their components are scattered across all areas of life, and of the state and society – the economy, the social sphere, education, politics and international affairs. We should build a model of state and civilized society that would be equally attractive and comfortable for everyone who calls Russia their Motherland.
We see what is to be done next. We understand that we have a historical experience that no one else has. We can rely on our mentality, our culture, our identity – it’s a unique and powerful foundation.
We will be strengthening the “historic state” that we inherited from our ancestors – a state and a civilization that can solve the task of harmonizing different ethnic and religious groups successfully.
We have been living together for centuries. Together, we won the most terrible war. And we will continue to live together. To those seeking to divide us, I say: “Don’t waste your time.”
original Russian text: http://www.ng.ru/politics/2012-01-23/1_national.html