On November 2, the First Assembly of Slavs of Russia was held in the city of Stavropol, the capital of Stavropol region. The main focus of the conference was the state of the ethnic Russians in the country as a whole and the Stavropol region in particular. The participants adopted a resolution with three primary points and forwarded it to the Russian leadership. First, the resolution demanded that ethnic Russians in Russia be endowed with the special status of “state-building people” (gosudarstvoobrazuyushiy narod). Second, the participants called on the country’s ethnic Russian regions and Russian diasporas abroad to gather for a World Assembly of Slavs. Third, the conference established the Union of Slavs of Southern Russia.
Over 500 delegates from various parts of Russia, mostly representing non-governmental organizations, participated in the conference. The participants of the conference’s initial demands were incoherent, with some wanting to call for the disbandment of ethnic republics while others called for the establishment of an ethnic Russian Stavropol Republic (http://kavpolit.com/russkij-medzhlis/).
Russians in Stavropol are primarily concerned with the influx of North Caucasians into Stavropol region and find it difficult to coexist with people of a different cultural background. It is unclear what Russian nationalists would gain, apart from moral satisfaction, if the North Caucasian republics were disbanded. The well-known Russian nationalist Alexander Sevostyanov spoke at the Stavropol conference and warned ethnic Russians against setting up a Russian republic. “It happened in the past, when 25 million Russians were thrown out of Russia’s borders [a reference to the dissolution of the USSR] and they remained on the territories of ethnocratic states,” Sevostyanov emphatically proclaimed. “We cannot repeat it over again in modern Russia. [Ethnic] Russians are the indigenous, titular nation and state-building people on every millimeter of our country” (http://kavpolit.com/russkij-medzhlis/).
The place of ethnic Russians in the contemporary Russian Federation has become an important point in public discussions in Russia. Among the ideas that have been floated are creating Russian republics, disbanding the non-Russian republics, and endowing ethnic Russians with the special constitutional status of “state-building people.” Naturally, if ethnic Russians are unhappy about their current status in the country, they are comparing themselves to others, most often to the North Caucasians, who have their own republics. Separating the North Caucasus from the Russian Federation is also one of the ideas popular among many Russians.
Vladimir Putin, who made his career on the war in Chechnya and, according to popular opinion, on saving Russia from disintegrating like the Soviet Union, has now been forced to defend his once hailed achievements. On November 7, President Putin met the heads of departments and professors of constitutional law departments of Russian universities. He went to some lengths to explain why separating the North Caucasus was not a desirable move for the Russian government. “[I]deas that the separation of any territory would improve life in the other [remaining Russian] territories are unfounded,” Putin said. “The solution to the many problems we have, including migration and many others, is located in a completely different dimension. Where? In improving the quality of domestic governance, economic and social policies, combating corruption. This is what we should think of. Those simple formulas—separate these, give up the others—nothing good will come from them, only additional problems will be created, which will be hard to resolve and will require serious efforts and maybe even sacrifices of human lives” (http://kremlin.ru/news/19579).
Although Putin did not name the territories that some Russians propose be separated from the country, there can be only one such region—the North Caucasus, as no other candidates are normally mentioned. Putin’s lengthy diatribe against proposals to separate the North Caucasus was not accidental. Recent polls in Russia indicate a great degree of ethnic-Russian intolerance toward North Caucasians. According to the Levada-Center polling organization, the slogan “Russia For [ethnic] Russians” is supported now by 66 percent of Russians, in comparison to 55 percent in 2002, while 71 percent now support the slogan “Stop Feeding the Caucasus,” in comparison to 52 percent support in 2011, when the slogan first appeared. The polling agency found that 54 percent of Russians give the highest priority to restricting the residency of Caucasians on Russian territory. Chinese and Central Asians come second, with 45 percent of Russians in favor of restricting their residency on Russian soil. To be sure, Caucasians were always the least wanted group in Russia, judging by several years of Levada-Center surveys (http://www.levada.ru/05-11-2013/rossiyane-o-migratsii-i-mezhnatsionalnoi-napryazhennosti). The nearly 10-percentage-point difference between North Caucasians and Asians is in fact even higher than it seems, given that North Caucasians are Russian citizens and Central Asians and Chinese are not.
The steady increase in xenophobic attitudes among ethnic Russians toward North Caucasians indicates that the central government is unable to fight this problem or deems this issue as a tolerable social phenomenon. Official Moscow may, indeed, regard “healthy Russian nationalism” as a useful tool. However, there is another side to the problem—the North Caucasians themselves. The Russian government’s unwillingness or inability to implement equality among its citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, especially in regard to the residents of the North Caucasus, will be a strong contributing factor to the further aggravation of the ongoing tension in the region.