A senior Moscow Duma official says that his city plans to “work up a collection of rules” which will help those coming to Moscow to fit in with the style of life of the Russian city and know from a pamphlet to be published outlining “what is acceptable and what isn’t” for all residents in what he described as an “ethnic Russian” city.
In an interview published in today’s Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Mikhail Solomentsev, the chairman the city Duma’s committee on inter-regional ties and nationality policy, said that such a set of rules will help unite newcomers with longtime residents by stressing what the two have in common rather than what separates them. But his comments about this plan make it clear that he believes it is migrant workers and non-Russians who must adapt rather than the Russians into whose city the former have moved, an attitude that almost certainly will exacerbate the already tense ethnic relations in Moscow whatever Solomentsev in fact hopes for.
The paper’s Lyubov Pyatiletova asked the Moscow city Duma official to explain why in the city’s recently adopted conception of nationality policy, “it is written that Moscow is not only a megalopolis and the capital of Russia but also that it is an [ethnic] Russian city,” given that “representatives of more than 160 nationalities live in it.” Solomentsev replied that this provision of the conception “means that Moscow is a city, the way of life of which is based on Russian culture and traditions laid down over the course of the centuries and that all who come here to live must take that into account.” By specifying this, he continued, it will help “all residents of the capital without exception to become Muscovites.”
That in turn means that they will be “members of a community which is greater than a nationality to the extent that in it are intermixed various cultures each of which has its own Muscovite style of life and its own rules of behavior. Look at any arrival,” he said, “and how he chances after literally five years here!” Up to now, he continued, there “exist unwritten rules which residents of our city must follow. For example, not to sacrifice a sheep in a courtyard, not to cook shashlyk on a balcony, not to go about the city in national dress, and to speak Russian.” But given the influx of gastarbeiters, some do not know these “unwritten” requirements.
Consequently, he said, “in the near future we want to develop a collection of rules which will help those who come here and remain in Moscow as permanent residents to fit in.” Diaspora groups have been asked to help, Solomentsev said, and “when we receive their proposals, we will invite scholars and as a result will be worked out the Muscovite’s code of conduct.”
“An individual will arrive, and those from his area already living here will give him this booklet: look and recognize that here this is acceptable and this is not acceptable.” Pyatiletova suggested that this represented a major change in a city where up until now the government has “considered it necessary to help preserve the culture and language of representatives of other cultures.” Does the shift Solomentsev proposes mean that national language schools will cease to exist?
Solomentsev came very close to saying exactly that. He suggested that “the ethnic component” in schools “will be preserved” but only outside of the normal curriculum. Students can study their native language or dances and the like, he suggested “after their lessons and possibly in another place.” That approach, he continued, reflects the judgment of city officials that Moscow should “stress not what divides the representatives of various nationalities but what unites them,” just as the Soviet leadership did during World War II, and consequently it is entirely appropriate for Russia now.
Just how committed Solomentsev and those of like mind in the Moscow city government are to Russian acculturation if not Russian assimilation of members of other nationalities was highlighted in two other comments he made about the future of nationality policy in the Russian capital. On the one hand, he noted that the city Duma has proposed to the all-Russia one that Russian law be changed so that no one charged with any crime involving ethnic or religious hatred could ask for a jury trial. In a multi-national state like the Russian Federation, such crimes are, like terrorism, directed against the state. And on the other, Solomentsev said that Muscovites feel they are being overrun by non-Russian gastarbeiters whatever the official statistics say. Such feelings reflect the failure of the central Russian government to adopt a sensible policy limiting migration, he continued, and the city is not to blame.
Solomentsev’s approach would be dangerous enough even if it remained limited to the city of Moscow, but the Russian capital has often been the originator of dangerous ideas that have either spread to other cities and regions of the Russian Federation or been adopted by the central government. In either case, the Russianizing and Russifying impulses behind what Solomentsev is proposing, however popular they may be among ethnic Russians, are certain to be viewed in a very different and more negative way by the nearly one-quarter of the population of that country that belong to other nations.