Oct 17, 2006

What is a Russian?

Following the spy-row with Georgia, President Putin came down with an acute case of xenophobia. As the CSMonitor writes, “Mr. Putin authorized a crackdown on Georgian-owned businesses, called for tougher curbs on immigration, and said non-ethnic Russians should be prevented from operating in the marketplaces.”

Yet, this raises a curious question: What exactly is a Russian?

Alas, the answer is decidedly difficult to answer. If Putin & Co. are going to ban them from the marketplace, shouldn’t we at least know who is, and is not allowed?

As any Mexican-American university student at MGU can attest, hair and skin tone are the most direct means by which the police profile prospective “document inspections.” Yet, a citizen from Rostov-on-Don is far more likely to be profiled than an illegal Latvian lap dancer living inside the garden ring without a Moscovskaya propiska.

The Russian language is one possible solution. But the Russian language is used widely throughout the former Soviet Republics and is the default language for intercultural communication. If Russian-speaking Georgians in the CD markets are still not Russian, how else do we tell the "Good" Russians from the unscrupulous foreign "imposters?"

And what about Jews? As recently as 2002, many internal Russian passports still listed “Jew” as a national identity, one wholly separate from “Russian.” In the eyes of the passport bureau, one could be a Russian, or a Jew, but never both.

It is equally difficult to link Russian identity to one’s birthplace. During the Stalinist period, the Kremlin deported whole communities of Georgians to the wilds of Siberia. Are these individuals Russian? They speak Russian. They were born in Russia. Yet, still, they would not be allowed to sell “ABBA’s Greatest Hits!” in a Moscow market as a result of their non-Russian heritage.

The answer, of course, is obvious. Any group or former republic which is out of favor with Putin is non-Russian, while everyone else is selectivly ignored.

This is an absurd precedent. But one which will have lasting consequences for the region.


1 comment:

Pirates&Diplomats said...

Inching towards war, inching towards being back on top with Arab speakers! Like the good ol' days, when Americans learned Russian so others didn't have to. Shutka.