THE RUSSIAN QUESTION AND THE RUSSIAN FROST

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The United Russia party’s vision of Russian identity

United Russia will offer the general public its own interpretation of the nationality question: not a divisive concept, but one aiming to unite Russian citizens of all ethnic groups and religious faiths in the cause of reviving a great and united country.


A large group of prominent academics, politicians, political consultants, and journalists gathered on February 3 at one of the United Russia’s think-tanks, the Social-Conservative Policy Center, to launch a new party project. Over the next few months, United Russia will offer the general public its own interpretation of the nationality question: not a divisive concept, but one aiming to unite Russian citizens of all ethnic groups and religious faiths in the cause of reviving a great and united country.

The meeting of the Social-Conservative Policy Club, called to discuss “Shaping the Russian Nation,” lasted almost three hours. Eventually, it resolved to establish a New Russian Political Center – a body of United Russia party experts who will work to inform voters in all regions about United Russia’s interpretation of the slogan which is heard so often at demonstrations: “Russia for Russians!”

“We want to start fighting for the word – for our understanding of who we are. Over the past decade, this has been usurped by pseudo-political forces attempting to trade on their ‘Russianness,'” said one of the project initiators, Ivan Demidov, the ideologue and leader of United Russia’s Young Guard youth movement. “A survey done in December by the VTsIOM polling agency shows that the most popular view on this question, shared by a relative majority of citizens, can be summed up as follows: ‘We’re in favor of Russia for Russians, if the word Russians is taken as meaning all Russian citizens.’ So right-minded people don’t give the ‘Russian’ concept any racist or extreme nationalist connotations. In other words, the term ‘Russian fascism,’ which has emerged in recent years – we intend to fight attempts to instill this term into mass consciousness – it’s a verbal act of provocation, since the very words ‘Russian’ and ‘fascism’ are antonyms.”

Journalist Maksim Shevchenko from Channel One (ORT network) proposed another battlefront for the New Russian Political Center: protecting and preserving the Russian language. According to Shevchenko, the language we speak “has become a project language, outgrowing ethnic frameworks – just like English, French, or Spanish.” The Russian language has been used “to formulate projects which have changed the world” (the “Moscow as the Third Rome” doctrine and communist ideology), and the language itself is what makes it possible “to see that which is Russian in all its vast and religious diversity.” So fighting for the Russian language is a very important objective, politically as well as culturally.

Andrei Kokoshin, member of United Russia’s general council and chairman of the Duma’s CIS affairs committee, insisted on the cultural component in politics. His proposal: “The consolidating role of the Great Russian ethnos in our multiethnic nation should be added to the agenda of Russian politics in the way that is required by our country’s higher interests – transforming Russia into a modern great power.” For a start, “the United Russia faction in the Duma should set out 20-25 basic parameters characterizing our national culture,” which we should “protect, uphold, and promote in every way” – primarily in other countries of the former USSR.

But there are also some problems in Russia itself, and it’s time to speak of them openly, calmly, and seriously, according to United Russia. Federation Council member and United Russia member Yuri Solonin spoke of the “gigantic mistake” made in the 1990s, when Yeltsin’s “parade of sovereignties” resulted in some of Russia’s ethnic republics becoming de facto states within a state. An example of the consequences can be seen in Adygea, where three-quarters of the residents are ethnic Russians, but none of them hold any significant posts in that region’s government. This situation, typical of some other ethnic republics as well, should be changed – and for a start, this requires discussing it at a senior state level.

The New Russian Political Center is already getting down to work. According to Demidov, the Center’s staff will visit the Stavropol territory and the Pskov region this month, as part of United Russia’s election campaign, to tell voters about the party’s views on the Russian question. The Center also plans to organize Russian Political Culture Day events in various regions of Russia; these events have already become popular in Moscow.

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