Уральский институт экономики, управления и права

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Ethnic Groups and States: Constitutional and Legal Problems of the XXI Century

The head of the department, Candidate of Law, Professor P. G. Schekochikhin opened the seminar. He defined main issues for discussion in his opening speech: is it possible to reach stability in the federal state if regions of the Federation (or some regions) are established according to ethnic principle? In what direction is the Russian feudalism moving – towards centralization and status unification of the regions of the Federation, or towards decentralization and more independence of the regions (including national ones)? In what conditions does an ethnic group get a right for territorial self-determination? Events of recent years show that even such countries as Great Britain, Canada, Belgium with effective systems of state governance and developed democratic institutions can have interethnic conflicts that may considerably destabilize political situation.  This circumstance makes the problem of interrelations between ethnic groups and government especially topical. That is why it is necessary to discuss it from a scientific point of view and have a theoretical comprehension.

Honored worker of the Higher School of the Russian Federation, Pro-rector of the UIEML, Doctor of History, Professor B. V. Lichman made a report about the state integrity of the Russian Federation. Centrifugal tendencies are historical in Russia. For example the establishment of the centralized Moscow state: Russian lands didn’t unite voluntarily, they united because of war campaigns of the Moscow principality. Muscovy was a strong state until it was a centralized state under the governance of the Grand Prince of Moscow. This can be referred to other periods of Russia’s history. The Russian Empire wasn’t an unitary state completely. Its component parts were considerably different in structure, ethnic composition and some of them (for example the Kingdom of Poland) even had their own constitutions (though Russian Empire had no written constitution). However, the state unity and territorial integrity of Russia were the result of centralized system of state power headed by a supreme leader. Weakening of centralized power and monarchy dismantling immediately resulted in Empire breakup. Today we have the similar picture: state unity is maintained not by the federal relations with a compromise between the federal center and regions, but by the “line of command”. As soon as the “line of command” is weakened, regional and political elites again let to know about their desire for a special status and even up to the separation from the Federation.

Dean of the faculty of law of the UIEML, Candidate of Law, Docent A. I. Durov paid attention to the lack of unity in understanding of such key categories as “nation”, “people”, and “ethnic group”. Many authors define ethnic group as “a stable group of people of different generations that was formed historically in a particular territory. These people have not only the common traits but also rather stable particularities of culture and psyche. They are aware of their unity and difference from all other similar formations” (Yu. Bromlei). “It’s a group of people that was formed on the basis of a certain stereotype. It exists as a structure and opposes itself to other groups because of complementary feeling. It forms a common ethnic tradition for everybody” (L. Gumilyov). “It is a group of people and its members have one or several common names and common elements of culture. They have a version of their origin and common historical memory. They can associate themselves with a special geographical territory and have the feeling of group solidarity” (V. Tishkov).  “Nation” also can be defined in different ways: some authors define it as cultural, linguistic and other signs, as a natural group of people (I. Gerder); others define it as a “co-citizenship”, “group of people who have one common native country”  regardless to the ethnic origin (Yu. Smyonov). There is no single approach to the definition of these categories in the law science and that makes it difficult to carry out research.

Candidate of Law, Docent E. V. Trenin noted that insufficient development of self-consciousness of Russian nation is the reason of many problems in Russia’s modern state structure. Many nations that live in the Russian Federation have very strong feeling of national unity and the sense of duty to their “small native country”. This national feeling predominates over the feeling of “co-citizenship”, the feeling of being a part of multinational Russian nation. Recently, having the largest population, Russian nation loses it national identity and, as the result, national consciousness. The result is the disbalance between the nations that live in Russia and national minorities with a developed sense of national identity who start to dominate in political respect over the amorphous national majority.

A senior academic of the UIEML A. N. Mochalov told about possible perspectives of Russia’s national and territorial organization.

Ethnic desire for territorial self-determination can be called as the world tendency of the last decades. That is why propositions, popular in constitutional and legal science of our country, about the necessity of Russia’s transfer towards territorial principle of state structure are unrealistic. The attempts to realize such transfer can result in a new wave of cross-cultural conflicts.

Participants of scientific and theoretical seminar also have noted that there is a big uncertainty in the development of relations between ethnic groups and states. Any event can be both a connecting factor and destabilizing factor. That is why it is necessary to study this problem more and to take deliberate decisions concerning the national policy of the state.


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