An Interdepartmental Working Group was created within the framework of the Russian government to deal with issues concerning international relations, under the chairmanship of the deputy prime minister D. Kozak, as well as an expert advisory board, whose first meeting had already taken place at the end of August, 2011.
The formation of these multi-level structures was preceded by more prominent meetings. In February 2011, during a State Council meeting concerning the ethnic problems, President D. Medvedev expressed his wish to create a government commission for the coordination of issues concerning interethnic relations. Next, on July 19, 2011, the Prime Minister V. Putin gathered the representatives of the national and religious associations, within the confines of the All-Russia People’s Front, and here too, resounded the idea of a formation of a new government structure. The following is the result: D. Kozak heads the Interdepartmental Working Group and an expert advisory board has been created within it. It seemed like a cause for rejoicing, as many of the representatives of the national autonomy groups had already demonstrated. N.G. Demetr, the chairman of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Roma in Russia, “was literally shining from happiness,” according to the “Weekly Arguments” reporter. “The ice has broken! For the first time in many years, I have hope that our problems will be solved,” said Demetr.
It seemed like a good thing indeed: after abolishing the entire Ministry of Nationalities (which was not very powerful, to tell the truth), its functions were transferred to a small department in the Ministry of Regional Development, which lowered the “status” of ethno-religious problems in Russia. Meanwhile, experts, protecting minority rights, are naturally sceptical about the above-mentioned meetings and the established working group. It is quite clear that the activity of the first persons of the country in the field of ethnic relations is caused by the approaching elections, in which the “national card” will be played by most candidates. Therefore, it is important to “put an appearance” and “stake a claim” to this part of the public space, demonstrating interest in the life of ethnic and religious groups. At the meeting on July 19th, it has been numerously repeated (by the “hosts” – Prime Minister Putin and Patriarch Kirill, as well as by the “guests” – leaders of ethnic and religious organisations) that All-Russia People’s Front is that long-awaited “platform,” which was needed to improve the interethnic situation. Generally speaking, it is unclear what prevented government officials, even with limited powers, to deal with these problems before, without any fronts. It is naive to assume that the new structure will finally solve the ethnic problems in Russia and become that same mouse, without who’s crucial participation neither the grandma, grandpa, Zhuchka nor granddaughter would have been able to pull out the turnip.
On the other hand, the position of the leaders of national associations is also upsetting. Either they do not understand that they are being used in the electoral campaign. Or they are totally in despair of solving the most painful problems of their people and are glad to have any opportunity to present their suggestions to the government – even filling up the President’s Administration with letters, even joining the People’s Front. Or, what is most sad, they understand everything and are in a hurry to show loyalty to the ruling party (sometimes with inappropriate praises), in hopes of receiving certain bonuses and promotions from it. Their speeches in favor of national minorities are very truthful, in words, but it is very well known that for example, the actions of the national-cultural autonomies are limited to activities that are not relevant to protection of rights of their people (festivals, holidays, etc). As a rule, the leaders of the autonomies are wealthy, well-educated people, who are far removed from the real problems of their people and do not wish to have conflicts with the authorities. In turn, the representatives of minorities, who are in the most need of help, are often clueless about the activities of the autonomies and moreover, did not elect or empower those, who act on their behalf.
Criticism from the “posts” is already heard: for example, P. Limansky, a representative of the Roma organisation in Rostov-on-Don, writes: “In the recent years, I have often participated in various types of activities, including those with the representatives of the government of the Russian Federation. All such activities, unfortunately, have only been empty sounds on the vast fields of Russia. The only exception was the city of Moscow, where the leaders of the Roma organisations could solicit and receive significant funds from the Ministry of Regional Development, from the Moscow government only for the organisation of banquets and concerts, which the Moscow Roma are not very interested in and are fed up with. In the regions, the situation does not change for years. For a long time, I have been trying to draw the attention of the Russian leadership to Romani problems, and I am glad that something progressed before the elections. However, I know from experience that meetings with the Moscow officials and even with the most important one, the prime minister, does not always lead to results in the regions.”