Moscow’s Plans for ‘Single Russian Super-Ethnos’ Sparking Anger among Non-Russians, North Caucasus Scholar Says

"Officially we all live in a federal state, but everyone already understands very well that this is only on paper."

Moscow is seeking “the creation of a single Russian super-ethnos” as one of the means of overcoming inter-ethnic conflicts, according to Madina Khakuasheva, a scholar in Kabardino-Balkaria,” but “odious declarations” about the supremacy of Russian over other languages are sparking “serious negative protest attitudes” in already restive republics.

In an interview with, Khakuasheva, a philologist at the Kabardino-Balkaria Institute of Humanitarian Research, says that Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky’s dismissive attitude toward the non-Russian languages, if it continues, will kill some of these languages in the coming decades (

She said that Circassian is already in trouble because “of the absence of the territorial integrity” of that nation, one that is now divided into at least four different republics and regions. And she added that it and other North Caucasus languages already are suffering to the point where few are writing or reading in them even if many continue to speak them.

If one approaches the language issue in a superficial way, Khakuasheva says, that appears not to be the case, at least in Nalchik where it seems more people are speaking non-Russian languages now than in the past. “But this is an illusion” produced by the departure of urban youth to Russia for work and the arrival of rural youth who will “cease to speak” these languages in two or three generations.

Already now, ever fewer people are reading in these languages, and “the literary language is suffering a serious crisis.” For example, she continues, “in 2012 in the Union of Writers of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic there was not one prose writer or one young poet. The situation is very dramatic.”

If things continue on as they are now, Kabardinian will disappear in 25 to 50 years, Khakuasheva says. She said that Nikita Khrushchev’s push for the use of Russian in 1961 contributed to this trend but that policies like those being pushed by Medinsky are certain to have even worse consequences. The first sparked protests; the second will cause even more.

The idea of building a single Russian-speaking “super-ethnos” is both dangerous for that reason and something that flies in the face of international experience.  People can learn many languages but even in the American melting pot, people want to retain a connection to their national pasts.
Such an interest is “inborn,” she argued, and that is “even more the case” in Russia because its nations “live on their historical motherland.” National languages are central to the survival of nations, and consequently, declarations like Medynsky’s are “odious” and even dangerous as manifestations of “Russian chauvinism,” Khakuasheva says.

But the issue is not just about languages, she argues. “Officially we all live in a federal state, but everyone already understands very well that this is only on paper. Everything is decided in an authoritarian fashion, that is, everything comes from the center” and is “a diktat” rather than the reflection of the will of the people.
Moreover, the Kabardino-Balkaria philologist says, “we all have understood for a long time that in the local areas sit people who simply execute the orders from above.  Here is a perfectly transparent scheme. One does not need to be a politician in order to understand all of this.”


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