Medvedev’s Critique of Ethnic Nationalism

The recent speech by President Dmitry Medvedev at the Yaroslavl Global Policy Forum has prompted a lot of commentary from observers.  Some, such as Ellen Barry of the New York Times, viewed the speech with disappointment, as the president failed to project any sign that people should re-elect him (as though it were up to him whether or not to run and/or win).  Others, such as Kevin Rothrock, point out that his speech in defense of multiculturalism was aimed at countering an earlier speech by Dmitry Rogozin, one of Russia’s more colorful politicians.

Either way, the Yaroslavl exchanges demonstrate the strong possibility that issues of ethnic nationalism and racism might become a core topic of the upcoming election, especially if members of the official and unofficial opposition to United Russia begin trying to pitch hate politics to voters who find people like Putin and Medvedev “too soft” on Chechens and Central Asians.  If the trend continues, things could get very ugly.  For a good summary and analysis on this important topic, we have our own English translation below of Tatyana Stanovaya’s article from

Lining up for a brighter future

Tatyana Stanovaya

Yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke at the Yaroslavl political forum, having started his speech by expressing condolences to the families and all the fans for the loss of almost the entire hockey teams “Locomotive” – one of the best teams in Russia. The tragedy had impacted somewhat on the President’s schedule, but had not forced him to abandon his speech, which was largely devoted to questions of ethnic relations. It looked like a direct opposition to a speaker at the same forum, Dmitry Rogozin, the permanent representative to NATO. But in a broader sense, it can be understood as a disagreement with the political strategy of Vladimir Putin, whose ONF (All Russian Peoples’ Front) party Rogozin may soon join.

Most of Dmitry Medvedev’s speech was devoted to explaining modern society. According to him, the structure of society has become radically more complex. He talked a lot about the social diversity of modern states and the new possibilities of media which have a direct influence on the news agenda. Much attention was paid by the president to the Internet and social networks, recognizing their growing role in influencing media content. “Today, monopolies do not exist any longer. The creation of online content is open to anybody who wishes to take part, to everybody. You do not need to be a media mogul, or a journalist or an editor … The expansion of the so-called social media is also very impressive. Now it does not need any intermediaries, people themselves, willingly and quickly collaborate with others of the same interests. And the numbers of interests are growing too” declared Medvedev.

The new social situation, in his view, creates new challenges for the traditional state: ethnic tensions; ethnic crime; illegal migration; all these have become for some states unsolvable problems. “The progressive stratification, which may have been less prominent during times of economic growth, leads to open conflict between the rich and poor people during the crisis. In many regions of the world, in my opinion, the extremist doctrine of class struggle is being revived. We are seeing riots and terrorist acts, and in some places very real civil war is ongoing ” he warned. The president’s speech was pure politics from start to finish. Medvedev said that today the government has a choice in their policy for development and, in fact, he acknowledged that amongst the Russian elite there is no agreement as to which option should be implemented. Tentatively, Medvedev spoke about the approach of the “conservatives” or the guardians who stand up for stability and who fear significant reform or any changes affecting the fundamental functioning of the political regime. In this, it was very easy to see an allusion to Putin and those who serve him ideologically and politically. “The diversity which we are discussing now seems to mean senseless chaos and the collapse of national unity and social solidarity. This gives rise to calls of the use of force to protect traditional culture and morality and so forth. “said Medvedev.

For the first time, he acknowledged that there are two “semi-official” development strategies, and he acknowledged the developing competition between them. As an alternative position to the “guardians” he presented the position of “liberals”, the side he quite clearly sided with. However, unlike many previous speeches, Medvedev focused not on issues of democratic liberalism, but on ethnic conflicts in Russia. “Unfortunately, the geography of ethnic tensions is expanding. Internal migration flows are moving mostly from south to north. Many of our citizens from the Caucasus are arriving into areas traditionally inhabited by Russians, and the Russian population of the Caucasian republics is decreasing quietly. This leads to bad consequences: the ethnic and cultural isolation of some regions and the emergence of inter-ethnic tensions in others “, he admitted, adding that “poverty is a powerful catalyst for ethnic differences. It is disadvantaged groups that are most commonly subject to xenophobia and intolerance (something true throughout the world).”

The Caucasian issue is one particularly close to Medvedev’s heart for it was on his initiative that the North Caucasus Federal District was created, whose head- Khloponin- was also the president’s choice. Now the maximum possible resources are being mobilized, investors are being engaged, and there is ongoing extensive work in search of models to overcome the crisis in the North Caucasus as well as closer cultural, social and institutional integration of the Caucasian societies. However, Medvedev meets with resistance on the implementation of such policies at various levels. For instance, the Treasury is blocking funding for the implementation of the development strategy of the North Caucasus. At the political level there is an increase of national-patriots in the legitimate political process. The speech of Dmitry Rogozin at the Yaroslavl forum created a huge response, which clearly put the “Russian question” on the agenda. The impression was created that the president is stoking controversy with Rogozin. “Our ethnic diversity is not a challenge, but this is our advantage. The historical fate of Russia is a fusion of collective efforts of all nations,which vary by language, and religion, and culture, and customs … I would like to quote my esteemed colleague, the President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Gul, who said that the differences between us is the wealth that strengthens our unity. I could not agree more, ” said Medvedev.

In the center of his chosen strategy, Medvedev has put the fight against poverty, which appears to be a more important priority than modernisation, of which Medvedev has always spoken. But Medvedev has paid special attention to the changing nature of the state, in effect, returning to where he began his speech. “The state should not be too linear, it must be diverse, it must be complex, even though it is difficult to manage and it must be challenging, flexible and intelligent. It should have an extensive system of communication with the various social strata, from all social groups, including the smallest. If the state does not see somebody, it is not the problem of the small social group, it is a problem of the state ” he said.

Here began the most intriguing part of Medvedev’s speech, and it was also when the debate with Putin arose, who, it is said, is building a system of political governance based on the orientation and mobilization of the authorities. The most resonant phrase of the head of state was a call to abandon ‘crackdown’. “Today more than ever the temptation exists to once again ‘tighten the screws’. Problems always exist and this is the easiest answer. Crime, separatism, poverty, what is to be done? They used to say that we need to unite closer around the leadership of the state, and to ‘crack down’ he pointed out. Medvedev spoke about the inadmissibility of silencing criticism, suppressing minorities,or restricting foreigners. “In our country there are those for whom diversity isn’t a worthy aim. As a modern country, we have people who believe that it is desirable to all line up in, as they say, orderly rows for a brighter future. I am sure that would not only not be necessary, but that it would be very harmful for our country, ” he said.

It is in this context that the absence of debate with Rogozin grows into something more: a debate with Mr. Putin and his idea of the ONF which Rogozin, and his KRO (Congress of Russian Communities) may soon join, which would be a way of legitimizing it. “In the parliaments of many states semi-fascist parties compete against those, to whom a few years ago nobody would have said hello.I think that the government should follow public trends, keep up with them and not drag society behind themselves. The more so because the state leadership arejust people with their own ideas, mistakes, errors, and values. In other words, the state must adapt to modern life, by preserving and increasing social diversity ” said Medvedev, offering five basic ideas of social diversity. This included support to NGOs, citizens’ access to new independent sources of information, improving the education system, the development of any and all traditional,and at the same time modern, cultures, and to hold fair and competitive elections.

“Many people do not agree with me. That’s normal. It has been said that we need to do everything very quickly, and only in this way will we succeed -this is one position. There is another position: it is better not to touch anything, because in general we are not doing too badly: we have public support for political institutions, we have a generally good economic situation, it is better not to meddle anywhere, the main thing is to do no harm. This is also a short-sighted attitude. We need to develop, but do it gradually and harmoniously, ” said the head of state in closing.

Medvedv caused irritation amongst many observers again by not naming names and arguing with shadows, making people guess who and what the president had in mind. However, this behaviour is fully in keeping with current rules of the political game, with the conditions of tandemocracy. Tandemocracy under such conditions becomes all the more like a dual power in which the controversy between the two leaders is becoming more public and the differences are becoming all the more fundamental.