The activist from Kamchatka who now lives as a political exile in Norway says that discrimination against national minorities has always been part of the Russian government’s strategy domestically but now it has become an instrument of state policy in the case of Ukraine.
In the 1990s, the state had other things to think about and did not exercise its traditional role in managing ethnic hatreds. Then in the first decade of this century, he says, Moscow either promoted or at least looked the other way as members of ethnic majorities attacked ethnic minorities as outsiders.[editorial]The Kremlin succeeds in managing xenophobic sentiments inside the country and even exports them to Europe, Russian sociologist Igor Eidman wrote back in 2016.[/editorial]
The Russian government’s only concern at that time was that this kind of nationalism did not lead to political movements that might challenge the Putin regime. To that end, it punished severely nationalist leaders of all kinds but generally did little to stem the rising tide of attacks by members of one group on those of another.
This use of administered nationalism, discrimination, and hatred is “a very dangerous phenomenon,” Berezhkov says, because it means the state can redirect these hatreds almost at will, as long as it provides a new target. That is why the campaigns against LGBT people are so dangerous for non-Russians and why the war in Ukraine has served Kremlin interests so well.
A move toward democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition for addressing this problem, Berezhkov says. Many who favor democracy really don’t understand the plight of minorities, and thus the advocates of a beautiful Russia in the future sometimes act as imperialists rather than democrats. That must change.
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