Putin harnesses Russian nationalism to boost presidential bid
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says that multiethnic Russia cannot survive as a US-style 'melting pot' but must find its own way.
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In the article, Mr. Putin warns that nationalist agitators, both those representing the ethnic Russian majority and those speaking for the country's multitude of small minorities, are growing voices of destruction that threaten to drive Russia down the path of a Soviet-style breakup.
It's Mr. Putin's second program statement in less than a month, reportedly written by three speechwriters and republished on his official campaign website. Experts say it raises some very real dangers posed by Russia's ethnic and religious complexity, but offers only more state control and curbs on democracy by way of solution.
Among other things, Putin calls for tougher controls on internal migration and illegal immigration from outside Russia, a clampdown on "separatist" political parties, and the creation of a new state agency to regulate interethnic relations. He suggests language testing for immigrants, to make sure they speak Russian, and also calls for creation of a list of 100 books that embody the "self-identity" of Russia, which would be mandatory reading for every Russian student.
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Racist tensions are growing in Russia, particularly in large urban centers like Moscow that host huge communities of darker-skinned and often Muslim "migrants" from Russia's impoverished and strife-torn north Caucasus region, as well as millions of "guest workers" – who often live in legal limbo – from the now independent republics of former Soviet Central Asia.
Though ethnic Russians make up about 80 percent of Russia's 140 million people, many minorities are concentrated in 20 Soviet-era ethnic republics, where they enjoy privileged status for their own languages and cultures. Moscow has fought two brutal wars since the Soviet collapse to keep Chechnya, a Caucasus republic, from seceding. Putin has warned that separatist passions could strike in many places besides the North Caucasus, including Siberia and the Volga region.
Just over a year ago, thousands of ethnic Russian ultranationalists rampaged in downtown Moscow to protest what they called police inaction over the killing of one of their own in a gang fight with youths from the Caucasus.
"There is a serious threat of extremism," as Russia's ultranationalists become increasingly politicized, says Alla Gerber, president of the Holocaust Foundation in Moscow. "More and more people have adopted the ideology of 'Russia for the Russians,' which means that everyone else is an 'alien'."