The ‘ownership’ of ethnoterritorial units

Ethnoterritorial units are usually created to provide recognized ethnic groups (nationalities) with administratively acknowledged ethnic (national, autonomous, substate) territories (homelands, regions) within a state. In such a way, ethnic groups can exercise a certain degree of (national,

From Soviet Union to federalism 45 ethnic) self-rule for the sake of protecting their group rights and interests in a state dominated by a different ethnic (ethnolinguistic or ethnoconfessional) majority (nation, nationality, ethnic group). In the Soviet Union, the establishment of ethnoterritorial units took place mainly in the first decade after the founding of this communist polity, as corroborated by the Kremlin’s policy of ‘indigenization’ or ‘nativization’ (KopeHiBamia korenizat-siia). This policy, first of all, entailed the promotion of the language of the eponymous ethnic group (nationality) as the official language of this ethnic group's ethnoterritorial unit. Next step was ‘affirmative action,’ or highly politicized programs of expedited training in regional administration and governance to promote members of a given ethnic group to positions of leadership. The idea was that the ethnic group’s ethnoterritorial unit (republic) should be run by this group's members, who would constitute the unit’s new communist elite. Owing their careers to the Kremlin, they would staff the autonomous (union) republic’s political and administrative institutions and work loyally for the Soviet Union. On the other hand, their rise to these high posts would convince their co-ethnics at large that the Soviet rale was acting in their ethnic group's interest, thus ensuring ‘loyalty of the masses’ Brubaker 1994 : 58; McGarry 2018 : 538; Martin 2001 : 177; Roeder 1991 : 204; Slezkine 1994).

However, such territorial empowerment of an ethnic group inevitably affects the rights and interests of people belonging to other ethnic groups who happen to reside in the concerned territory (Roeder 1991: 208). For instance, this kind of ethnoterritorial empowerment often leads to the rise of the popular preconception that residents who do not belong to the titular ethnic group may be seen as mere ‘guests.’ In this unofficial view, the continued residence of ‘ethnic guests’ in the autonomous territory depends solely on the goodwill of this territory’s titular ethnic group (nationality). At times, the sentiment prompts practices that would nowadays be characterized as a form of ethnic cleansing (Martin 2001: 65). The adverse impact of ethnic empowerment on communities and individuals not belonging to the titular ethnic group (nationality) is one of the main challenges that confronts all ethnoterritorial federations. There is not a single ethnoterritorial federation where a perfect overlap would have been achieved between ethnic (ethnolinguistic) and territorial boundaries - that is, between ethnic groups and the federation’s administrative (autonomous) units. This incongruity was particularly evident in the Soviet Union, where many people used to live outside their ethnic territory (homeland, autonomous republic) established for their ethnic group (nationality). In several union and autonomous republics of the USSR, the titular group did not even constitute the majority of the republic’s population (Connor 1989: 37; Brubaker 1994: 55).

A similar incongruity between the demographic sizes of the titular group and other inhabitants who do not belong to this group also characterizes the Ethiopian Federation. For instance, in Benishangul-Gumuz, the nonempowered or ‘non-indigenous’ (as the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional Constitution terms them)11 ethnic groups account for almost half of the population. The same situation can be observed in a few other ethnically based territorial units in Ethiopia, such as in Anywaa and Majang Zones, located in Gambela Region. In Majang Zone, the Majangs are in fact a small numerical minority ofthis zone’s population (Vander Beken 2015: 155,156,170).

In accordance with the Ethiopian Constitution’s emphasis on ethnicity and the principle of national self-determination, the country's ruling party, EPRDF, adopted a strong indigenization policy. This policy underlies and legitimizes the political and administrative structure of present-day federal Ethiopia. As is clear from the discussion earlier, in many ways, this Ethiopian ‘nationality policy’ emulates goals and practices of the interwar Soviet Union’s policy of korenizatsiia. What is more, the EPRDF’s own structure followed present-day Ethiopia’s statehood logic of ethnoterritorial federalism. The EPRDF was not a unitary party but a coalition of four ethnically defined political parties, a kind of supra-ethnic ‘all-Ethiopian’ party. These four ethnic political parties were the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and the South Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM). In some ways, this unique feature made the EPRDF distinct from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which was organized as a single All-Soviet party with regional (republican) branches.12

However, a striking similarity of the EPRDF and the CPSU is that formally the latter party’s republican branches were organized as ‘fraternal but separate’ communist parties in their own right, of this or that Soviet socialist republic. For instance, in Soviet Belarus it was the Communist Party of Belarus; in Estonia, the Communist Party of Estonia; in Moldavia, the Communist Party of Moldavia; and in Ukraine, the Communist Party of Ukraine. Interestingly, the Soviet Union’s largest republic - that is, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (coterminous with the present-day Russian Federation) - did not have any republican (‘Russian’) party of its own until 1990. The Communist Party of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was founded just one year before the breakup of the Soviet Union, in 1991. Basically, the CPSU doubled as the communist party of both, the Soviet Union and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Only geographic in their character names of the Soviet republics were allowed in the names of these republican communist parties. Names of ethnic groups (nationalities) were not permitted. But the Soviet Union’s

From Soviet Union to federalism 47 republics were tied to specific titular nationalities (ethnic groups) with their own ethnic languages, which de facto ethnicized these republican parties, often much to the Kremlin's irritation. Hence, the small difference in this regard between the EPRDF and the CPSU is that the 'Ukrainian Communist Party’ was an ideological impossibility. It had to be the Communist Party of Ukraine. On the other hand, in Ethiopia, the ethnic name ‘Oromo’ was allowed in the name of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). But in some cases, geographical designations were preferred to ethnic names, such as in the name of the South Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

The EPRDF’s four constituent ethnic parties were set up for the corresponding ethnic groups empowered (or ‘indigenous,’ to use the Ethiopian constitutional jargon) in the regional states of Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and the State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples. This implies that cadres who belong to these empowered (titular) ethnic groups dominated the EPRDF’s four respective parties. As in the case of the CPSU (and its republican branches-cum-republican parties), which doubled as the Soviet Union’s administration, the EPRDF’s constituent parties de facto monopolized the aforementioned four states’ regional governments and institutions. However, unlike the Soviet Union, in Ethiopia, this situation means that the empowered (titular) ethnic groups also dominated - and to this day dominate - these four states’ regional governments and institutions. For instance, all members of the Regional Parliament of the State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples display a ‘required’ indigenous identity (Beza 2018: 8). The governments and administrative institutions of Ethiopia’s five other regional states were also monopolized by the parties established for these states' indigenous (titular) ethnic groups (Zemelak 2018: 283). The aforementioned parties were not members of the EPRDF but subscribed to and closely followed the EPRDF’s policies, values and plans (Arriola and Lyons 2016: 77; Ishiyama 2007: 92). In the Soviet Union, the republican communist parties were required to be ‘socialist [communist, Soviet] in content and national in form,’ as Joseph Stalin pronounced in 1930 (Martin 2001: 247). Ethnicity was to be subjugated to the construction of socialism (communism) in the increasingly de-ethnicized Soviet Union, especially after the end of korienizatsiia at the turn of the 1930s.

On the other hand, the indigenization (nationality) policy, as adopted in federal Ethiopia, leads to the political, administrative and economic dominance oftitular indigenous groups intheirrespective ethnic homelands-cum-states (regions). This phenomenon can be illustrated by the example of the regional state of Benishangul-Gumuz. Although almost half of this state's population is composed of ‘non-indigenous residents,’ only nine out of the 99 members of the state’s regional parliament displayed a non-indigenous identity, according to the results of the 2015 elections. The region’s executive body (government) is even more strongly dominated by the titular ethnic groups (nationalities), in that all the cabinet’s 17 members were indigenous at the time of writing (2020). This form of administrative indigenous empowerment is in line with the political objective of setting up ethnically (ethnolinguistically) defined regions (states) and autonomous territories of lower administrative status across Ethiopia. But this process generates serious tensions and has significantly contributed to the emergence of interethnic violence in almost all regional states in Ethiopia. On the other hand, as the following section discusses, the constitutional and political empowerment of indigenous (titular) ethnic groups has secured for them only a limited autonomy from the federation’s center. This paradox also characterized the Soviet Union, but the Kremlin’s empowerment of ethnic groups (nationalities) was not a goal in itself but rather a tactical means to transcending ethnicity for the sake of building an ethnic-fess and class/ess homogenous Soviet communist people (narod).

 
Source