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Russia’s Competing Visions of Diversity

A Good Treaty has published a blog post responding to Ellen Barry’s New York Times piece commenting on a recent speech given by Dmitry Medvedev at the Yaroslavl Global Policy Forum.  Contrasting his comments with the hardline “rejection of multiculturalism” as sprouted by Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin in a speech earlier in the day, AGT argues that Medvedev is still indeed fighting for his job.  Both items are worth reading.

While Russia’s third president could very well turn out to be a one-termer, the evidence in Yaroslavl hardly implies that he’s not fighting for his job. A gaping omission in Barry’s September 11th article is any mention of Rogozin’s speech, which–placed next to Medvedev’s–represents a clear polemic between civic patriotism (Medvedev) and ethnic nationalism (Rogozin).

Readers should compare the two speeches and decide for themselves, but it’s important to understand the context, in order to appreciate why Medvedev’s ‘discourse on diversity’ was meaningful. The last time he participated in domestic affairs, Dmitri Rogozin was a political star. (Nezavisimaia Gazeta’s former chief editor, Vitaly Tretyakov, was once certain that Rogozin would be president, calling him “Russia’s freest-thinking and freest-speaking politician.”) He held a top position in the ‘Rodina’ coalition, a party dedicated to Russian ethnic nationalism that captured 9% of the vote in 2003, winning 37 seats in the Duma (one more than Zhirinovsky’s LDPR). When Rodina proved too independent (willing to incite ethnic hatred in campaign ads and criticizing pension monetization reforms), the party was folded into Spravedlivaia Rossiia, and Rogozin abandoned his position in parliament, ultimately settling for a post in Brussels in 2008.

Rogozin is still Russia’s representative to NATO, but it became clear earlier this year that United Russia is interested in redeploying the former Rodina captain to domestic politics. These rumors began in May, when the Justice Ministry agreed to register Rogozin’s ‘Congress of Russian Societies’ (KRO), suddenly, after years of attempts. This was within weeks of Putin announcing the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF)–a public organization designed to rejuvenate United Russia ahead of December’s parliamentary elections. Though Rogozin himself has remained illusive in interviews, it’s widely expected that KRO will join the ONF, injecting United Russia with a dose of nationalism that presumably aims to make it more competitive in a post-Manezh, post-Sagra nation.

Having demonstrated his charisma and free will in the past, Rogozin’s leash will be shorter if he indeed quits Brussels and joins a KRO-ONF campaign now. Nezavisimaia Gazeta claims that he could even land on United Russia’s top-ten list, assuring him a position as a deputy. Consequently, Rogozin is on track to become synonymous with the Party of Power–a risky venture for United Russia, but also a marriage that transforms criticisms of nationalism into attacks on Russia’s number one political party. Tatyana Stanovaya makes this argument in a September 9th analysis on Politcom.ru, going so far as to say that Medvedev’s Yaroslavl remarks were aimed not just at Rogozin, the ONF, and United Russia–but at Putin himself. (In this claim, she focuses on a part in Medvedev’s speech, where he puts the significance of minorities’ interests above those of the state, which reverses the Putin Years’ typical statist emphasis on majority mobilization.)

The possible incorporation into United Russia of an individual like Rogozin, who can be seen as a local version of Jörg Haider, isn’t just risky, but also extremely dangerous, as the prospect of state-backed racism, discrimination, and extremism will claim no shortage of victims and damage Russian interests. It also seems like a signal of desperation for a government to win back its flagging support through fear of the ethnic question