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Lawmakers argue whether to mention ethnicity in passports

October 25, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russians are debating whether domestic passports _ a legacy from the Soviet-era practice of discrimination against some minority groups _ should mention a person’s ethnic background.

But it could be some time before the outcome of the dispute is reflected on many new passports. A newspaper reported Saturday that government offices are too poorly equipped to start a massive passport exchange.

The issue surfaced last month after President Boris Yeltsin ordered domestic passports to replace the Soviet version, but without carrying a reference to nationality or ethnicity.

In parliament Friday, lawmakers argued the issue, considered important in a country that has a long history of persecution against Jews and other ethnic groups. Soviets were accused of using the passports _ essentially national identification cards that all Russians are required to carry _ to help them identify the groups.

Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, and other Communists and hard-liners supported the inclusion of ethnicity.

Seleznyov’s critics, including ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, argued that the move would discriminate against those who wouldn’t like their nationality registered.

``They (the communists) like to mention nationality just like the Jews were marked in (Nazi) concentration camps,″ said Zhirinovsky, who often has been rumored to have Jewish roots.

Last summer, Yeltsin vetoed a parliament bill which required mandatory mention of ethnicity in birth registration forms and certificates.

Meanwhile, Moscow regional governor Anatoly Tyazhlov signed an order for passport officials to begin preparations to issue the new passports, the Vechernaya Moskva newspaper said Saturday.

But, the report said, passport offices _ located in city and rural police stations _ are ill-equipped and understaffed to carry out such a program.

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