3. 5. 2021.

The declaration of the principle of equality and prohibition of discrimination on ethnic grounds in the national and international documents creates a legal basis for national minorities' participation in political life on an equal footing with the dominant ethnic group. The Lund Recommendations of OSCE on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life state that such participation is an “essential component of a peaceful and democratic society”.

Autorica: Daria Maracheva
Prijevod: Daria Maracheva

The mechanisms to enhance the participation of national minorities in political life can be quite diverse. At the legislative level, these include a system of advantages in elections participation such as lowering threshold for national minorities parties, reservation of seats for national minorities in legislatures, the existence of legislatively enshrined right to establish political parties of national minorities, the establishment of parliamentary committees and councils with national minorities representatives. As far as the executive and judicial level are concerned, it can be allocated to members of national minorities cabinet positions, seats on the supreme or constitutional court or lower courts, positions on nominated advisory bodies or other high-level organs, ensuring national minorities interests within relevant ministries, establishment of ombudsmen offices for the rights of national minorities and other mechanisms.

Russia does not use direct mechanisms to promote the participation of national minorities in political life. The Russian Federal Law on political parties prohibits the establishment of political parties based on professional, racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation. Russian legislation does not provide for quotas or other legal forms of guaranteed participation in the legislative process for national minorities and indigenous peoples in the federal and regional parliaments as well as guaranteed seats for minorities in executive and judicial bodies. However, it does not mean that in Russia national minorities are not represented in power structures. Opportunities provided for national minorities regarding their political participation are mostly indirect.

At the federal level, it is the legislature where non-ethnic Russians are the most represented. In the Federation Council, upper house of the Russian Parliament, it mostly refers to senators representing national republics, where the so-called titular minority group (ethnic group after which republic received its name) makes up more than 50% of the population. Federal Council is composed of two representatives from every constituent entity of the Russian Federation with one representing the legislative (representative) authority and the other the executive authority.

The total number of elected MPs to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, is 450 members. 225 MPs, that is half of the total number, are elected by majority voting in single-mandate constituencies (one constituency is one deputy), and the second half is elected in the federal constituency in proportion to the number of votes cast for a federal list of candidates. The federal constituency covers the entire territory of the Russian Federation. Analysis of candidates from single-mandate constituencies, with each Russian constituent entity represented by at least one MP, shows that in national republics with a majority of the population being non-ethnic Russians, MPs are mostly persons belonging to a titular minority group. The same is true for the regional part of party lists.

Both houses of the Russian parliament have committees on interethnic relations. A permanent advisory body within the Federation Council is the Council for Interethnic Relations and Interaction with Religious Associations, which includes senators, presidents of the regional parliaments, representatives of other state bodies, NGOs, religious associations (in particular, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chairman of Russia Muftis Council, etc.), scientists and other specialists.

The State Duma Committee on Issues of Nationalities is in charge of protection of rights of national minorities and indigenous peoples of Russia, improvement of legislation on prevention and settlement of interethnic conflicts, analysis of current legislation in the field of state ethnic policy.

The Council for Interethnic Relations and Interaction with Religious Associations as well as the State Duma Committee on Issues of Nationalities focus on legislative regulation of state ethnic policy. Though both bodies are not exclusively composed of persons belonging to national minorities, they include prominent national minorities’ members who participate in decision-making. In particular, more than half of the 15 members of the State Duma Committee on Issues of Nationalities (MPs) are persons belonging to national minorities, including the chairman of the Committee.

After the collapse of the USSR, several attempts have been made to create a federal ministry for interethnic affairs. From 1993 to 2000 the ministry changed its name seven times. In 2001 the Ministry for Federal Affairs, National and Migration Policy had been abolished and its functions were distributed between different ministries. From 2004 to 2014 inter-ethnic issues were handed over to the Ministry of Regional Development and a special department of state policy on interethnic relations was established. In 2014 the department ceased to exist together with the Ministry, which was abolished.

Finally, in 2015 it was decided that all activities related to interethnic relations should be managed by one ministry. As a result, the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs was established. The Ministry is responsible for the formulation and implementation of state ethnic policy, including policies aimed at the protection of the rights of national minorities and indigenous peoples of Russia.

As Russia does not have a quota system for national minorities in legislative, executive, and judicial bodies, the number of persons belonging to national minorities varies greatly with every new election to the State Duma, the appointment of the Government, or judges of the Constitutional court. In the current Mikhail Mishustin's Cabinet 1 out of 10 Deputy Ministers and 3 out of 21 federal ministers are non-ethnic Russians. As for the Constitutional court, currently, 2 out of 11 judges of the Constitutional court are persons belonging to national minorities. 

The importance attached to the interethnic policy in Russia is reflected in the establishment of the Russian Council for Interethnic Relations chaired by the Russian President. Despite its status of an advisory and consultative body, it is the Council that largely determines key directions of the state ethnic policy. In 2016, it was within the Council that the idea of ​​drafting a federal law on the Russian nation was suggested, though it was never adopted due to a widespread controversy sparked within Russian society. The council consists of members of the Presidential Executive Office, the Government, federal executive bodies (in particular, Head of the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs, Minister of Culture, Minister of science and higher education), public associations (including presidents of Federal National Cultural Autonomies), scientific and other organizations. Eight standing committees and working groups operate within the framework of the Council.

In order to protect the rights of small-numbered indigenous peoples of Russia, the Ombudsmen for the rights of small-numbered indigenous peoples were appointed. Ombudsmen offices have been established in three regions of Russia: the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), in Kamchatka, and in the Krasnoyarsk regions. In exercising their authority Ombudsmen enjoy a special status. They are independent and not accountable to any government bodies. All three ombudsmen are persons belonging to small-numbered indigenous peoples of Russia.

As far as the regional level is concerned, non-ethnic Russians are quite widely represented in the legislative, executive, and judicial bodies of the national republics that have a prevailing or a significant share of one ethnic group members who are non-ethnic Russians. In such republics, governors are representatives of a titular minority group. At the same time, in other constituent entities (territories, regions, cities of federal importance, autonomous regions, autonomous areas and even republics with a very low percentage of non-ethnic Russians) national minorities are barely represented in power structures.

The key institutional form for ensuring interaction between public authorities and people belonging to national minorities at the regional level are advisory councils on interethnic relations to governors, governments, or regional parliaments. In its Fourth opinion on the Russian Federation, adopted in 2018, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities welcomed the existence of such consultative bodies but noted that they are not necessarily providing for effective participation in the sense that national minorities participation has “substantial influence on decision-making". Their main drawback, according to the Advisory Committee`s opinion, is “the missing legal entrenchment of the advisory bodies` guaranteed rights in the decision-making processes”.

As far as political representation of Roma people is concerned, in fact, it can be argued that in Russia Roma people are virtually absent in the power structures both at the federal and regional levels. Though the existence of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Russian Roma helps to preserve the national identity, language, and culture of Roma people, generally national cultural autonomies don’t have the right to political representation.

Russia favors indirect mechanisms to enhance the participation of national minorities in political life, which means that one can’t have a guaranteed seat in a legislative, executive, or judicial body either at the federal or regional level simply because of being a person belonging to a national minority. At the same time living in a national republic where a titular minority group makes up more than 50% of the population, de-facto gives a respective ethnic group a guarantee to be represented in power structures. In these republics, titular minority groups have the same chances to be represented in the republican legislative, executive, and judicial bodies as well as to be elected to the federal parliament as ethnic Russians. Moreover, in those national republics where titular minority group makes up more than 80% of the population, ethnic Russians are under-represented. There is a more complicated situation in the republics where ethnic Russians are the dominant ethnic group. Generally, it can be concluded that the higher is the share of a titular minority group in the population of a national republic, the more powerful is the local elite, and consequently the more chances the respective titular minority group has to be represented in power structures. As far as other constituent entities are concerned, the Russian political system shows preference for non-parliamentary over parliamentary mechanisms of national minorities’ representation in the form of establishment of regional councils on interethnic relations and assemblies of indigenous peoples.

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