Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 214

Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology in Moscow, strongly opposes the inclusion of national identity in Russia’s new passports. Ethnic identity is a matter of individual self-identification, he argues; in a democracy, it is improper for the state to intervene in such a "deeply personal matter." Not only is it improper, Tishkov goes on, it is not practical. An individual gets his or her first passport at age 14 – 16, when many people are still too young to decide their ethnic identity. People’s ideas tend to change over time, he says, and that would require constant revising of passports. People of mixed parentage do not necessarily feel one thing or another but may feel dual loyalties to different ethnic groups, he also points out. (Izvestia, November 4; ORT, November 8)

Tishkov clearly suspects that the leaders of some of the national republics, Tatarstan in particular, are banging the nationalist drum in an effort to pressure the federal government into concessions over such other issues as the 1998 federal budget. He warns republic governments that ethnic identity could prove a two-edged sword.

Tishkov points out that the ethnic categories commonly used in Russia today (not only in the old Soviet-era passports but also in the population censuses carried out every ten years) were established in the Soviet era. At that time, he recalls, an officially approved list of "peoples of the USSR" was drawn up by the Institute of Ethnography and the State Statistical Directorate, and no-one was allowed to choose an ethnic identity not included in this list.

Now that Russia is a democracy, Tishkov goes on, it must allow its citizens to choose their own identities. Left to their own devices, people are likely to choose any one of a up to 150 identities that did not figure on the approved list. As an example, Tishkov says that many people presently categorized as Tatars could choose to describe themselves as "Bulgars, Mishars, Kryashens, Kalmaks, or Nagaibaks." (The Nagaibaks, he explains, are Orthodox Christians concentrated in Chelyabinsk oblast, whom the Soviet authorities forced against their will to class themselves as Tatars.) The Tatar people could suffer a major loss, while Mordvins could disappear altogether, Tishkov says, since the latter is an ersatz nationality dreamed up by Soviet bureaucrats. But where would that leave the authorities in the Republic of Mordovia? The Avars, who enjoy a privileged position in Dagestan’s multiethnic political system, could evaporate into ten separate ethnic groups. Nor would national minorities be the only ones affected: millions of Russians, Tishkov says, would demand to be reclassified as Cossacks.

Security Council Resolve Tested by Iraq.