The Title Nation

Russian Twitter hates Kamil Galeev and his long threads explaining Russian dysfunction. What’s really funny is the argument that is invariably used to discredit Galeev. “He’s Tatar!” Galeev’s Russian detractors exclaim as if it were a really convincing argument of why Galeev’s insights are useless.

The Russian Federation holds many territories with people who differ ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically. Within Russia, people you’d call “ethnic Russians” consider themselves to be “the title nation.” That’s an official term. I learned it from N who uses it completely seriously. In Ukraine we have different ethnicities but nobody is “the title nation.”

The Russian “title nation” deeply despises everybody who isn’t part of it. There’s absolutely no chance that Galeev hasn’t experienced endless manifestations of contempt from the representatives of the “title nation.” I have, even though unlike Galeev I don’t look different from “ethnic Russians.”

Taking all this into account, can anybody explain why it’s so unrealistic to give all these abused, despised and mistreated ethnic groups a possibility to seek sovereignty outside of the cruel and contemptuous rule by the inept and corrupt “title nation”?

The last remaining old empire should go, ceding place to nations. This is particularly important to remember today when we celebrate the very idea of nationhood.

18 thoughts on “The Title Nation

  1. I think most people have no idea how true this is. I’m from Belarus and I have been insulted for my ethnicity and accent in Russia many times. “Бульбаши”, “peasants”, it goes on and on. We are stupid, we are uncultured, and so on. And we look exactly like Russians. It’s worse for people who are different in appearance.

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  2. “He’s Tatar!”

    Yes! I’ve gotten that exact reaction as if it’s some kind of massive mic drop moment…

    “title nation”

    The term I came across (during a translation concerning EU migration policy IIRC) was “titular nation”.

    And why wouldn’t Ukrainians be a titular nation of Ukraine?
    I assume there’s no corallary of the russkij / rosjanin distinction but how would you define Ukrainian then?
    Is it like Brazilian where it refers to any citizen?

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    1. The problem with “title nation” is that the expression “титульная нация” has many shades of meanings to a native speaker, and they all point in the same direction. “Титульная” is not a word anybody normally uses but “титулованная” meaning “titled” or “aristocratic” is. So there’s a shade of meaning there that points to superiority. The word “нация”, too, is not the same as ‘nation.’ Hация is always superior. Nobody would refer to the Tatars as a нация.

      Many people don’t understand that everything we see as “Russia” today is the product of only Moscow and St Petersburg. Just two cities creating all this dysfunction. Two cities that are deeply and almost apocalyptically hated by the rest of the Russian Federation. There is an opportunity here that is ripe for the taking.

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      1. “The problem with “title nation””

        The term isn’t really used in Poland either (in the translation in question it was a calque from English)…

        tytuł in Polish is used for things like movies or books (though the ‘aristocratic’ meaning exists as well and there are people hung up on the idea of their own aristocratic origins….)

        nacja is almost not used at all except as a calque from English… the usual word is naród (used in the older meaning closer to ‘ethnicity’ than anything else, the modern meaning of ‘nation’ as ‘country’ barely exists though the UN is “Organizacja Narodów Zjednoczonych” which is very weird…

        not that relevant to the topic but I like babbling on about subtle shades of meaning and usage the same way you like to rant about neoliberalism (and I’m very in favor of ranting about it).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m really into shades of meaning, too. And here is an interesting question. It’s so much easier and shorter to say “русские” than “титульная нация.” Why would people choose the latter unless they wanted to communicate something that the simple word “Russian” doesn’t? An extra effort usually means an extra payout.

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          1. “so much easier and shorter to say “русские” than “титульная нация.””

            Okay…. this is a term of self-identification? I had somehow managed to miss that… how does it work?

            ?? Иван из титульной нации ???

            ???В аварии пострадали четверо узбеков и трое представителей титульной нации??

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            1. Weird, right? People actually say this about themselves. “Как представитель титульной нации, я думаю…” In casual conversation it sounds so bizarre. An what follows it is never neutral because after such a pompous self-presentation neutrality would be a letdown.

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  3. So many years ago, as I was taking my first steps learning the language, I remember having a conversation with a Russian girl in the course of which I quite casually mentioned the famous Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. A look of horror came over her face as she immediately stopped me to correct me: “No on bashkir!” [He’s not Russian, he’s Bashkirian]. It has stayed with me all this time, which was over thirty years ago, and that was how I learned the difference between russkiy and rosjanin.

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    1. That’s so weird. I’m trying to think of what that would look like in America– “Oh, Gershwin wasn’t an American composer. He was Jewish!” or perhaps “You can’t call Louie Armstrong and American musician– he was black!”

      It doesn’t really compute. If there’s one thing we’re good at, as Americans, it’s fawning over other people’s accomplishments as though they were our own, just because we’re all Americans.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. And there’s no nation unless everybody can feel like they are part of it. We have people of different ethnicities in our street but everybody is barbecuing and celebrating July 4.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Possibly First Nations at least in Canada. I don’t think citizens generally get shipped off to reservations.

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          1. “First Nations” is definitely a stupid term because nations were born in the XVIII century, and the whole point is to say that the indigenous were there long before. It’s typical Canadians fumbling things in their rush to be progressive.

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      2. ““You can’t call Louie Armstrong and American musician– he was black!””

        Frank Sinatra? He’s not American, he’s an Italian!

        It’s really quite insane since AFAICT they even do it with people who are monolingual in Russian and who grew up in a very Russian cultural milieu…

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        1. It reminded me briefly of Giannis Antetokounmpo (yeah, I had to look up his name, but it comes right up if you just search “Greek basketball player”– there’s apparently only one?). Greeks are the most ethnicity-proud people I’ve ever known, to a really quite obnoxious degree sometimes, and yet every time I have heard or read Greeks talking about Giannis, they don’t seem to care that he’s not 100% ethnically Greek, he’s like a national sports hero. What they care about is that he says he’s Greek, he speaks Greek, and says nice things about Greece. Probably I’m not seeing the full picture, but still— nobody’s like “Faugh! Giannis! He’s not Greek!”. No, they are super proud of him.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “Greeks are the most ethnicity-proud people I’ve ever known”

            Known many Hungarians? Or Serbs?

            I do get the point though. Interestingly I’ve read that in modern Greece a very considerable percentage of the population are Hellenicized Albanians (like most Hungarians are Magyarized Slavs and Germans).

            I miss Greece, it’s been years since I’ve been… considered it in June but ended up in Bulgaria (which I also love) instead, but theAegean is still one of my favorite places on Earth….

            Poles are sort of the opposite, proud of accomplishments but relentlessly critical of everything in the country (a common theme in media is how things are uniquely bad here). the advantage is that lots of people try to do better and over time things have gotten much better. The ‘we’re so great’ ethnicities tend to stall out and not change much for the better….

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    2. In Ukraine it would be impossible to treat, say, Crimean Tatars or Jews or “ethnic Russians” as deficient or “not real” Ukrainians. It’s considered in extremely poor taste.

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      1. Well, if they’ve all been oppressed by Russians together, I’d expect a certain foxhole tolerance. My Catholic and Buddhist friends in VN are like that. Historically, they are enemies. But since the commies tried to wipe them all out, they’ve reached a polite truce, learned a little from each other, and there are occasional intermarriages.

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