Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

Siberian Self-Determination?

First off, I want to apologize about my MIA status for the last little while. A slew of apps and an unexpected work load has kept me away from this blog. Jumping right back in, the report that grabbed my attention this afternoon is Paul Goble’s post on the blooming nationalist aspirations of…the Siberians. Yup, it’s true.

Siberian nationalists, encouraged by the response to their call for residents of that enormous region to declare themselves Siberian by nationality in the upcoming Russian Federation census, have now issued an appeal to the broader international community about what they see as the coming of age of the Siberian nation. The 400-word appeal, which was posted online yesterday in both Siberian/Russian and English, argues that the willingness of people there to declare their nationality as Siberian marks “the end of the ripening and forming of Siberian identity” and thus the coming into existence of a Siberian nation…

This story provides another indication about how thorny this issue of ethnic self-determination is becoming. If the right of ethnic groups to self-autonomy is encouraged and legitimatized by international actors (see the recent Kosovo example), then where’s it ever to stop? Russia, ethnically diverse as it is, is in a particularly difficult position and one can understand why Moscow has been less than supportive of such movements. If the Siberians want self-determination, then what about all the hundreds of other ethnic groups that live within Russia’s borders as well?

Consider the numbers. According to its 2002 census, Russia has over 150 ethnic groups. But we know that these numbers are understated and politicized (as they were historically during the Soviet era), given that there are many more groupings who recognize themselves but remain officially unrecognized by Moscow. One can imagine a scenario in which more and more ethnic groups become disillusioned with the failings of the Russian government, feel marginalized within their own communities, and are inspired by an eloquent leader to assert their own ethnic identities by violently forming autonomous nations of their own. It’s a frightening prospect.

As Donald Horowitz famously argued in his piece, The Cracked Foundation of the Right to Secede, “propounding a right to secede… is likely to increase ultimately fruitless secessionist warfare, at the expense of internal efforts at political accommodation and at the cost of increased human suffering.” In other words, as long as a principle exists that legitimizes a right of ethnic groups to stake out their own claims to self-determination, there is little end in sight to ethnic conflict. Who, after the Siberians, will be next to demand their own autonomy? I can think of quite a few candidates.

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  1. I'm sorry to say that, but you are completely wrong. There is a huge mess with what Russia and the rest of the world means by word 'nation'. Russians use words 'nation' and 'nationality' to define the thing you call 'ethnicity'.

    We, Siberians, are fighting for ethnic recognition first, and then hopefully a national one, but we have no plans to become an autonomous nation. We want to stay with Russia but on our own conditions.

    We are not Russians as our authorities want us to see. I mean ethnically. We are different, and we want to be and stay different to save our culture, to preserve our land for future generations of Siberians.

  2. > we have no plans to become an
    > autonomous nation. We want to
    > stay with Russia

    Speak for youself please. I am a Siberian too and I'd prefer a complete independence from Russia.

  3. I am one of the authors of the Siberian declaration. The national movement does not have secession goals for now, and when we speak "political nation" we mean participance in political life of Russia as a separate ethnicity. So "nation" here is "an ethnicity which acts pilitically". The question of secession maybe a part of the national movement or maybe not.

  4. Being siberian guy,I'd prefer wide autonomy in "soft" federation.Like Quebec in Canada,or kind of…But I'm afraid,it's not possible already – in Russia we don't have ANY federation in fact!For last 20 years Siberia are constantly being heavily robbed by Federal Goverment.Much more than ever!And now,Siberia is more economical colony than ever before.According to information of Siberian Research Institute of Economics,EVERY YEAR 100 billion dollars are sucking off Siberia!This is absolutely unacceptable situation.That's what it's all about,think!