Belarus or Northern Kazakhstan Could Be Next Eastern Ukraine, Tishkov Says

June 2, 2014
Academician Valery Tishkov, director, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academia of Sciences. Photo by

Staunton, 1 June – If the leaders of Kazakhstan or Belarus adopt policies like those Ukraine did, there is no guarantee that those two countries might suffer the fate that the eastern regions of Ukraine are now facing, according to Valery Tishkov, director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a former Russian nationalities minister.

In an interview given to, Tishkov said that “no one can say anything in advance” but the Belarusian opposition has been “very radical and Russophobic,” even though “Belarus is simply a territory through which have passed various armies”.

“If suddenly the line of the leadership and the line of the opposition intelligentsia were to come together, then no one could guarantee that both in Belarus and in Kazakhstan would” there not be changes in a negative direction regarding Russia and Russians, the ethnographer says. Indeed, there is evidence of such a trend in Kazakhstan.

Already there is a manifestation of Kazakh ethnic nationalism which speaks against the conception of the president about a Kazakhstan civic nation. And Northern Kazakhstan which is primarily populated by Russians could overtake the fate of the south-east of Ukraine.” Tishkov added that he “hopes this will not happen.”

Most of Tishkov’s interview is devoted to the nature of nationalism and to the situation in Ukraine. With regard to nationalism, the ethnographer says it is important to distinguish between “nationalism in the name of the state” which adopts a messianic position and “nationalism which seeks a special status for this or that nationality.”

If the former is apparently acceptable in his eyes, the latter “ethnic nationalism” bears “a negative character.”

Nationalism can appear in any country and has in “all the countries which were formed after the disintegration of the USSR.” Where governments pushed for the “construction of an ethnocratic state,” he argued, that immediately led to “conflicts,” as in early post-Soviet Georgia where the government declared “’Georgia Only for the Georgians.’”

A similar conflict arose and has intensified in Ukraine, he continued, “between ethnic Ukrainians, who have declared themselves and their language the only masters of the new state, and Russians, Hungarians, Carpatho-Rusins, and other groups of minorities.”

Nationalism is most common, Tishov suggested, in countries “where there is poor administration, where the state is constructed without a taking into account of regional historical-cultural differences, where there are no programs for the support of small groups and where the priority of the language and cultural tradition of only one part of the population is affirmed.”

Those things come out in the open especially when here is a political struggle, economic crises, and a corrupt elite, he added. And when they do the most varied events can trigger a conflict between the dominant group and minorities. In Ukraine now, he asserted, “Ukrainian ethno-nationalism of a chauvinist kind” is predominant.

Those resisting it are doing so not on a purely ethnic plane but also “in the name of a regional and cultural-historical community.” They are seeking “worthy representation in a large state or if they cannot achieve such a status and legal guarantees” then”exit from the common state and the establishment of their own formation or a joining together with another state.”

“Such is a worldwide norm,” Tishkov said.

Russians and Ukrainians are culturally similar but the idea that they are fraternal peoples who have never been in conflict is “a myth.” Moreover, as Sigmund Freud pointed out in his arguments about the narcissism of small differences, the smaller the differences among peoples, the more important each difference becomes and the more likely it will be a source of conflict.

Neither in tsarist nor in Soviet times did Ukrainians and Russians view each other as the enemy. But now, as a result of “the geopolitical competition” between the West and Russia, that has changed, with the West seeing an expansion of its influence in Ukraine as a way to limit and weaken Russia.