Many observers noticed that during Putin’s war in Ukraine, more and more non-Russians, at least some of whom were counted by Moscow as assimilated and therefore Russian, chose to proudly declare themselves “non-Russians”. (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/10/at-end-of-soviet-times-non-russians.html).
At the same time, many people whom the regime classifies as Mo Russians consider themselves to be Siberians, Cossacks, Ingermanlanders, Novgorodians or others are now saying these are their identities no matter what Moscow says, at least in part for distance themselves from what they see as the Russian crime of invading Ukraine.
As a result, the actual share of non-Russians in the population of the Russian Federation is higher, perhaps five to ten percent now, than Moscow realizes. And if you add the population of migrant workers, the non-Russian share of the population is perhaps not around a fifth as Moscow says, but almost a third.
But according to Valery Pekar, a teacher at the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, this non-Russian component of the population may soon be joined by people who have identified as Russian but no longer really want to because of the war (gordonua.com/blogs/valeriy-pekar/lyudi-v-rossii-ne-mogut-raskayatsya-poetomu-desyatki-millionov-iz-nih-skazhut-ya-ne-russkiy-i-vdrug-okazhutsya-bashkirami-tatarami- kalmykami-1631874.html).
His argument will certainly be challenged by many scholars and certainly by officials in Moscow, but he is convincing – and if he is right, then the non-Russian share of the population of the Russian Federation could be 44% or even more. , dangerously close, from Moscow’s point of view, to what was the case just before the break-up of the USSR.
Pekar’s argument therefore deserves special attention.
According to the professor from Kyiv, the reason for his conclusion is that “people in Russia cannot repent” and will therefore try to escape responsibility for the situation they find themselves in by declaring themselves anything but Russian. In that case, he says, “tens of millions of people will say, ‘I’m not Russian’.”
He compares what he says the Russians are likely to do with what the Germans did after 1945. The latter went through repentance and purification for 25 years, which required occupation but was possible because, even if the Germans deviated from historical moral principles, they could and did return to this base.
Russia cannot be occupied – it is simply too big – continues Pekar. But the real problem is that the Russians cannot repent. For this to happen they would have to have a basic ethic “and this is absent in Russia”. They lack a concept of sin both individually and collectively and are instead affected by shame.
This is a big problem, says the Ukrainian academic. Systems that have a common understanding of sin know that God wants the sinner to repent and, having repented, to be taken up by the community. But systems that do not have this shared concept and are instead based on shame do not allow for the possibility of such repentance and acceptance by the community afterwards.
“Let me emphasize,” says Pekar, “that repentance is not just an individual act but a social act. After the sin, the community rejects you; after repentance, the community accepts those who repent. If there is no community that rejects you and then accepts you, then repentance is impossible.
But if repentance is impossible for the Russians, it is also impossible for them to stay where they are in a catastrophe such as their impending defeat in Ukraine. It may seem intractable, but there is a way out. “Instead of the remorse they can’t get, tens of millions of them will say, ‘I’m not Russian; This does not concern me; it’s not my system; this is not my war.
In this situation, “tens of millions” of Russians will suddenly re-identify themselves as members of various non-Russian nations or as Siberians, Cossacks, Uralians, or Pomors. Some activists are already preparing passports for citizens of Karelia or the United States of Siberia.
Pekar concludes: “You can’t live forever in a disaster. The choice is between revenge, repentance or escaping the definition in which you find yourself. The first will exclude the acceptance of defeat. The second is impossible” for the reasons we have just explained. As a result, “the Russians will take the third way.”
And therefore, if this analysis is correct, the Russians will not find themselves as the overwhelming majority in their country that they have been told they represent, but a mere majority and a majority whose hold even on those who still identify as ethnic Russians is likely to decline as well.