As a part of the constitutional changes in the Russian Federation, the contested amendment to Article 68 on the status of the Russian language was adopted. It states that Russian is the language of a nation-forming nation within the Federation.
Such a formulation has been criticised by smaller ethnic groups, who point out that the government has divided nationalities into those that form the state, with the rest being second-class citizens. Religious and cultural authorities from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and the North Caucasus republics, where most of the population consists of non-Russian ethnic groups, opposed the changes. Although the Constitution guarantees protection of language and culture of these minorities, they are convinced that such a formulation emphasizes the primary role of ethnic Russians in the state and gives minorities the status of natives that are only entitled to their territory and culture. According to both political scientists and historians, sorting nations into “constitutive” and “others” is inappropriate and leads to the segregation.
In a country with a historical experience of ethnic unrests, these steps may cause a further deepening of antagonism in the society at local, regional as well as national level with possible foreign policy implications. Amendments can also restrict privileges of 22 national republics, which consist of a majority of non-Russian titular nationalities, further undermining the principle of Russian federalism.
It is not yet clear what the designation of ethnic Russians as a nation-forming nation will mean in legal terms. Such a change can be perceived as symbolic – an adjustment that will appease millions of demographically stagnant ethnic Russians, while at the same time, a significant proportion of ethnic minority populations will be concerned. Although this step may not have a significant formal impact, fear of increasing Russification in non-Russian areas is likely to increase. The situation can also be exploited by radicals, who still constitute a large group in the North Caucasus. The experience from the 1990s proves how radical ethno-nationalist narratives can cause destabilization across the region in a relatively short time. Furthermore, differentiation between “privileged” and “others” may contribute to the intensification of inter-ethnic competition even on the level of “autonomous” republics.
Over the last decade, ethnic unrest in national republics has been largely latent. On the contrary, religious radicalism has come to the fore. Embracement of ethnic narratives in the Constitution can reverse the whole dynamics, especially in the case that radical groups take advantage of the situation. Given the measures taken in the past, the outbreak of the Third Chechen War or similar conflict is unlikely to happen. However, even greater alienation between the Russians and minorities can be anticipated, eroding the overall security in the area.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Diana Motúzová
The text has not undergone language revision.