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National Cultural Autonomy in the Russian Federation: Implementation and Impact

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This article explores the meaning of national cultural autonomy both in the Soviet period and in the Russian Federation at the time of, and following, the adoption of the 1996 Federal Law on National Cultural Autonomy. The author examines the cartography of national cultural autonomies, that is the ethnic minority associations, set up since 1996 to understand the motivations by ethnic minority communities for establishing an autonomy, often in addition to pre-existing ethnic minority organizations and cultural institutions. For ethnic minority community leaders the autonomy model appeared attractive – the access to state powers and perceived provision of financial resources. The state saw an obvious benefit in autonomy as a means in regulating its relations with a plethora of ethnic organisations which had formed in the final days of the Soviet regime. Although the law marked a historic departure in the history of ethnic minorities by being the first law to name ‘certain ethnic groups’ as the beneficiaries of the promotion of their rights it has not been without its problems. This author suggests the inherent hierarchical structure prescribed within the law whereby only one federal autonomy could exist increased intra-ethnic rivalry rather than unifying ethnic organisations. It also inadvertently brought the Russian question to the fore, that is the place of ethnic Russians in a post-communist Russia who attempted to avail themselves of cultural autonomy. Despite the shortcomings of cultural autonomy both in theory and practice it has performed an essential role in opening up the debate on the national question in the Russian Federation.

Affiliations: 1: Community Development officer, London, UK


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