Academician Valery Tishkov
Institute for Ethnography and Anthropology
The aim of ethnologic monitoring is to provide a basis for the analysis of trends in the cultural and religious “superdiversity” of Russian society from the viewpoints of risks and nationwide consensus. The objective is to find an answer to this question: Does the Russian population’s cultural complexity embody a national weakness and a barrier to successful development, or is it unrelated to stability and welfare and can it even become a potential resource for development? And a related question: What are the meaning and mechanisms of nation-building in contemporary Russia?
The situation with national consolidation of the new country’s citizens is complicated due both to the historic cataclysm of the Soviet Union’s collapse and to the new geopolitical competitions and continuing institutionalization of ethnicity in the federal system (22 ethnogeographic autonomous republics). This situation, in turn, has produced and is now feeding a primordial vision of ethnicity at both the population’s everyday level and the level of experts. Ethnonationalism also remains in the foundations of national construction of all the countries of the former Soviet Union; and given ineffective governance, internal crises, or external effects, there are serious widespread risks of conflicts and even disintegration. The 2020 amendments to the Russian Federation Constitution do not reflect the concept of nation-building based on a multiethnic civil nation while retaining the Soviet formula of a multinational people and even exacerbating that formula with a new record of a “nation-forming people,” meaning ethnic Russians. This has been a step back from the ratification of all-Russian
identity and the post-Soviet concept of a civil or political Russian nation along with today’s self-identification, which underscores “we are the Russian people, the citizens of the Russian Federation.”
This conservative trend was caused primarily by internal power dispositions, but it also partially reflects the global trend of a crisis for liberalism and the very concept of a nation-state. In Russia, this concept is disputed by conservative political forces and the expert community (including the Russian Orthodox Church), which advance the alternative thesis that Russia is a unique civilization. Thus, a doctrinal-scale question is added to the analytics monitoring repertoire, namely, what is the “Russian idea” and what is the basis for Russia’s nationhood.
Russia is subject to multidirectional centralization and regional-ethnic disintegration factors. On the one hand, nationwide institutions (the Constitution and federal government, power structures, the education system, the army, the national Russian language and Russian-speaking media, the professional culture, etc.) promote the formation of a shared civic identity. On the other hand, the existence of ethnonational institutions in the republics and the preservation and support of particular ethnic cultures shape an ethnic identity among the non-Russian population, according to its importance in certain situations. This applies especially to so-called titular nations. This primacy could spill over into interethnic contradictions and rejection of the shared state.
A mirror-image situation exists in cultural and political manifestations on behalf of the dominant majority—ethnic Russians whose identity is expressed powerfully and in many ways, beginning with the historical narrative, language, and religion, and ending with the name of the country. We cannot deny that the “political” Russian bias exists because there is an “ethnic” Russian bias. Of course in Russia, that is the core culture that is the starting point of the country’s nationality and strength. However, under certain conditions, mobilization of the “ethnic” Russian factor can entail as many risks as those of peripheral nationalism or separatism. It would seem that Russians are inseparable from anyone, and they are the first custodians of nationality; but we must not forget 1991, when “ethnic/political Russia” in the form of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was one of the initiators of the fall of the Soviet Union. Thus, not only ethnic minorities but also advocates of radicalism on behalf of the majority require regular monitoring.
In the recent decade religion, which plays a role that varies, has become a factor in the formation of group identities and a subject of monitoring. In some cases, religion blurs ethnic boundaries; in others, to the contrary,
it reinforces ethnic identity, making ethnic group boundaries more rigid. On the whole, religion should be a source of stability and reconciliation unless radical/fundamentalist projects and forces arise in or around its environment. Our analysis shows that dialogue and mutual respect and a willingness to cooperate with the state exist at the level of religious leaders. However, conflict situations form at the level of church-affiliated and religiously motivated activists and in response to public moods. Conflicts and incidents of violence occur around (a) property and construction of churches, (b) the status of places of worship, (c) the importance of public services, and (d) debates over symbols of faith. Government agencies rather successfully neutralize the forces of international terrorism on the country’s territory and prevent terrorist acts, but this does not guarantee the elimination of religiously motivated conflicts, especially when ethnic group boundaries align with faith boundaries. From this standpoint, the religious situation is an interesting field both for study and monitoring and for the development of models of the regulation of interfaith relations and religious policy.
Ethnicity and religion shape cultural aspects of world vision and patterns of behavior, which are often described in terms of “national character,” “traditional values,” or “ethnic stereotypes.” At the same time, civic integration resulting from purposeful efforts by the intellectual elite, governmental institutions, and everyday human practices leads to reinforcement of the shared national culture with its values and symbols commonly understood by all. This process relies on interactive experience of members of various cultures and belief systems within the historic Russian nation-state. But this same process implies the need for sociocultural innovations and “big projects” as conditions for development. For this reason, an attempt by some experts to lay the foundation for an understanding of Russia and its image of a future concept by a special “civilization code” with a set of eternal mythological characteristics entails a risk of arrogant isolationism and exceptionalism and of rejection of the culturally complex nature of Russian society.
During the ethnologic monitoring of recent years, studies have examined the relationship and interaction of the shared national (Russian) culture with ethnic and religious traditions, values, and norms: how they are combined, whether they are capable of integration and peaceful coexistence, or whether they are doomed as adherents of the tenets of “incompatibility of cultures” and “collision of civilizations” believe. Our hypothesis rests on the idea that the cultural ideals, values, and self-consciousness (identity) together with the feelings of engagement with the country and its people are all an important resource for development and effective governance. At the same time, the
culture is inhomogeneous and variable, subject to interpretation, and the person’s and citizen’s identity is not only the ideas and attitudes conferred and taught by the family and educational environment, but is also an arena for competition among various influences and prescriptions, including external destructive influences. Thus, the problem of indoctrination through modern influence systems becomes one of the keys in ensuring civic, faith, and interethnic peace and consensus. The recent radical changes in relations among people of different ethnicities under the influence of events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and media propaganda and social networks require expansion of the parameters of ethno-monitoring.
We believe that much depends on the person himself and on his internal resources, attitudes, and thoughts. But these attitudes depend on a series of social, cultural, and psychological factors. The defining factor in ensuring the interethnic consensus and stability of multiethnic communities is national policy and the effect of powerful institutions of civil society. So an important area for monitoring is the study that includes (a) how nationwide, ethnic, and religious identities are shaped in contemporary Russia; (b) what factors affect this process; (c) how these factors interact; (d) what meaning people invest in the concepts of nation and faith, and what roles these identities play in various areas of life (public and private life, cultural and religious needs, work and home arenas, etc.); and (e) whether they are equally important in the same domains of human existence.
How are the images of the “ethnic culture” of the greater and lesser Motherland shaped, what do these images include, and what do they mean for the citizens themselves? What role do bilingual capability and cultural complexity play at the collective and individual levels? Can a shared national identity in a multicultural state have some components of a single cultural-historic basis? If so, what should that basis be? Does it require development of a historic myth (a grand narrative), and how can general concerns be combined with particular interests? To solve these problems, analyses must focus on ethnic and religious symbols and their interpretations, forms of symbolic behavior, the meaning of the language-factor, social memory and images of the past, images of the country and other ideas throughout the world, and the religious understanding of the meaning of life and its combination with scientific approaches. The big question is “the battle for the past,” including the changes in the present situation and intentional falsifications of history.
One object of study is cultural-religious intolerance and xenophobia, racism, and neofascism based on intolerance. To date, the paths of recruitment
to the ideology and practice of extremist violence, generally of young citizens of diverse social backgrounds and psychological makeups, have not been studied. What life values are opposed to the phenomenon of “wars of liberation” that feed terrorism?
In the 1990s, attention of researchers turned to status-type conflicts (sovereignty, self-determination, autonomy, etc.) and to problems of religious revival and rehabilitation of punished people. Today, attention to conflict is shifting to social entitlements and allocation of resources, to material and political-ideological issues, to collision of lifestyles, and to geopolitical games. In this new situation, divisive conflicts and alienation between human communities (peoples) can arise from small cultural differences, as is happening, for example, between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. These new circumstances require fundamental scientific analysis.
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