The Ethnic Issue in Modern Russia – Part II

Dear Readers:

Today we have a continuation of this essay by Irina Alksnis.  And this is actually perfect timing, because today, November 4, is a new Russian holiday called The Day of National Unity. Well, new-ish. This is the 12th year in a row for the celebration of this particular jubilee. Which was introduced by the Russian government in 2005 as a replacement for the traditional celebration of the October Revolution.

Russia’s national heroes: Minin, Pozharsky, Putin, and Patriarch Kirill

Minin and Pozharsky aside (who were regarded as Russian national heroes even in Soviet times – hey, they fought against the Poles!),  the Russian government strives to create a new “national ideology” which is all-inclusive of Russia’s past leaders and heroes.  Except for commies, of course.  They’re beyond the pale, and those tough years of socialist development never happened.  Instead we just transitioned from Tsar Nicky to Vladimir Putin, with only a couple of annoying bumps in the road.  Those annoying bumps are called “Times of Troubles” – in Russian смута (SMU-ta)*.  That’s when a whole lot of shaking is going on:  Sailors mutiny against their captains; ordinary people get riled up and overthrow the authorities, sometimes if not always with the assistance of foreign invaders.  And one of those irritating  “smutas” lasted for 70 years, apparently!

*Etymological footnote: Russian s-muta (“popular ferment, disturbance, etc.”) from Proto-Indo-European *mont-a, or something like that; see, for example Sanskrit manthayati (“to shake”); Lithuanian menturis (“whirlwind”).  Another ablauted form from something like *mint-a becomes Russian мятеж (“mutiny”).


Yesterday we talked about the Astrakhan Conference at the end of October, in which President Putin supported a proposed amendment to the Preamble of the Russian Constitution.  We had some difficulty (that’s the royal “we”) in discovering the actual wording of this amendment, but “we” continue to search diligently online.

“Life gets better every day!”

Irina Alksnis goes on to write, optimistically, that inter-ethnic tensions within the Russian Federation have noticeably eased in recent years, especially compared to the situation around 2010.  Sociologists ascribe this development to the shared euphoria surrounding Russian reunification with the Crimean peninsula and Sebastopol.  This event drew all Russians closer together, both in the Motherland as well as the diaspora.  (Well, except for a few negative nellies here and there….)

A second factor is the increase of tensions between Russia and the West.  Most Russians blame the West for this, and rightfully so.  Russians feel like they are more under attack from the West (which they are), and this has brought them closer together as a nation, overcoming internal boundaries along ethnic and even class lines.  It’s like the old joke about how human beings will only come together as one unified species on that day when we look up into the sky and see those Martian flying saucers firing laser beams upon our cities.  In other words, having a common enemy can turn even old foes into friends.

Survey Says…

According to VTSIOM sociological surveys among Russian citizens, the percentage of those who feel that Russia “enjoys national unity” rose from a paltry 23% (2012) to 54% (2015).  Among youth (ages 18-24), the metric is higher:  60%.  For those over 60 years of age, the metric is 51%, and for those with lower education, the metric is correspondingly lower  at 46%.

However, a more sinister result was obtained by the Levada Center sociological polling company.  Not satisfied with asking vague and banal questions such as “Do you feel that we are a unified nation – hip hip hurrah?” Levada pollsters got down and dirty, worming their way inside people’s homes and asking them directly how they feel about other people.  Levada, which, by the way, the Russian government has determined to be the agent of an (unfriendly) foreign power, conducted this poll in August 2016 and published the results in October.  The poll set out to measure levels of tolerance and xenophobia, attitudes towards migrants and immigration policies, etc.

“This is what I think: Your average Jew is very smart, but…”

The poll was conducted among urban and rural cohorts, 1600 adults in all, in 137 populated areas of Russia.  Poll was conducted inside people’s homes via face-to-face interviews.  Statistical margin of error is determined at .95 maximum.  There are a lot of charts and graphs.  Levada claims their survey indicates that levels of xenophobia in 2016 have returned to the higher levels of 2011, following a more tolerant phase during the years 2012-2013.   Looking at the first chart, I see the opposite, but then I’m not a sociologist, so I don’t know what I’m looking at.

For example, people were asked of various national groups:  “Do you want to limit the right to live in Russia for (Caucasians, Central Asians, Chinese, Gypsies, Vietnamese, Ukrainians, Jews, etc.).  The keystone question (highlighted in blue on the chart) is:  “I don’t believe there should be limitations on any peoples.”  In 2011 only 17% agreed with that statement.  The percentages for the following years (2012-2016) were, respectively:  18, 11, 21, 25, 20.  Hence, to my untrained eyes, it looks like 2013 was the least tolerant year.  But that is just one question and one metric, there are lots of others.  Levada claims that the overall picture is one of intolerance and xenophobia.

In another example, the Levada pollsters asked the residents how they felt about Caucasians (and other darker-hued types) living in their area.  Responses were rated on a scale from (best to worse):  RESPECT – SYMPATHY – IRRITATION – DISLIKE – FEAR and “no particular feelings”.  In 2016 only 2% of the respondents felt “Respect” for their Caucasian neighbors.  But 60% harbored no particular feelings, which I reckon should be the normal response towards people you don’t necessarily know personally.

Stirring the pot still again, Levada then asked respondents how they feel about the (Russian nationalist) slogan:  “Russia for the Russians” – «Россия для русских» (Rossiya dl’a Russkikh). 

Russian nationalists tend to go bald in their early 20’s.

This touches on what we talked about yesterday, namely the use of the word “Russkiy” for an ethnic Russian.  My colleague Lyttenburgh chided me in the Comments section for claiming that “only Russian nationalists” call themselves that.  He is right, and I was being overly-politically correct.  It’s what I always called myself, in fact, and I am very far, ideologically, from being a Russian nationalist.  To Lyttenburgh’s point, “Russkiy” is just the normal spoken word, nobody uses the word “Rossiyanin” except in print and official statements.

Be that as it may, the specific slogan “Russia for the Russians” is a nationalist slogan, popularized by right-wing nationalists and white-supremacists.  That specific slogan is deliberately exclusionary.  One has to distinguish between the average Russian Archie Bunker who believes that the Azerbaijani guy living down the road, want to steal his car; versus the highly ideological nationalist who belongs to a political party (most likely funded by the American CIA) which marches down the street chanting “Russia for the Russians” along with “Heil Hitler”.

Anyhow, in the Levada survey, 21% of the respondents correctly identified above slogan as fascist in nature.  Another 27% shied away from the question.  14% enthusiastically supported the slogan, with 38% giving it partial support.

[to be continued]

This entry was posted in Friendship of Peoples, Human Dignity, Russian History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Ethnic Issue in Modern Russia – Part II

  1. J.T. says:

    Just a quick, curious question: why is the Soviet period seemingly glossed over in this new “national ideology” the Russian government is creating? It’d be interesting to know the reasoning behind that move.


    • PaulR says:

      It isn’t entirely, as there is, for instance, a lot of attention paid to the Great Patriotic War. As I understand it, the Day of National Unity is not just about ethnic reconciliation but about reconciling the various strands of Russia’s political past, Red and White, and fusing them into some sort of corporatist whole.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      “why is the Soviet period seemingly glossed over in this new “national ideology” the Russian government is creating?”

      Because Anti-Sovietism more or less (now less, than more) is still the official ideology in Russia. In late 80-s – early 90s for a short period new elites and members of the so-called Russian intelligentzia became united in dismantling the Soviet legacy and system. But while the perpetually kvetching dissident masses were doing what is intheir own nihilistic nature, new Powers That Be (new political and financial elite) saw it as a way to justify the mass plunder and rapine of Russia’s resources and natural wealth in the 90s. Anatoliy Chubais said just that – “Our chief goal was to prevent the resurgency of the communism and to dismantle the whole old system”. The same man who said that “it’s no big deal if several millions of the people will die in the process – they just didn’t fit into the market”.

      If you paint the whole Soviet period in the most darkest, derived from the Nazis and Robert Conquest propaganda colours, when you convince the people that it’s worth dismantling the whole system in the name of, ehm, jeans, Malboro and McDonalds, then you can run the country virtually unopposed. Whenever someone tries to argue that privatization auctions are unfair, that oligarchs are selling out the country and that Russia has lost its right to conduct independent foreign policy – you simply ask: “What, you want back to totalitarian horrors of the USSR?”. Bonus points, if you also convince poor (literally poor) fools that Communism is equal to/greater than Nazism. Because in that case you can demand anything in the name of “building a democracy” without actually building it.

      Nowadays Powers That Be (political and financial) feel themselves much more safer and established. They no longer need nihilistic kreakls “shacking the Regime”. But they don’t need for people to know the truth about the USSR either, because it might not compare the country we have now favorably to what we had in past. All these talks about stable income, employment, free medicine and higher education for all, about ruthlessly repressing corruption – who needs that? No-no, let’s better talk about The Russia that We Have Lost ™. And ask forgiveness from the Last Czar. After all, Paying and Repentance ™ must happen!

      Or I could answer even shorter – because currently Russia is ruled by the capital. For the capital to wax poetically about the time of when it’d been actively suppressed by the dictatorship of the proletariat is unthinkable.


  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Be that as it may, the specific slogan “Russia for the Russians” is a nationalist slogan, popularized by right-wing nationalists and white-supremacists.”

    Like “lawyer” Lyosha Navalny, Dyomushkin and one certain Prosvirnus.

    “which marches down the street chanting “Russia for the Russians” along with “Heil Hitler”.”

    About “Russkiy March”. As it became a tradition, it devolved into a farce (albeit the Western press still tries to present it as a proof, that “Russia is in grips of rabid nationalistic fervor” (c)). E.g.:

    Not sure is Izrayelevich a Patronym or the last name… Speaking of which – here the result of Levada CENTer’s poll about the state of anti-Semitism in This Country. Guess what? For the last 20 or so years the attitude towards them was the same – “I treat them just like anyone else” – to which subscribed from 78 to 84% of the people. What is changing is the the number of negative answers about them.

    Azokhen vey! And to think, that the people (in emigration, Novaya Gazeta and Ekho Moscvy) are scaring us nearly daily that people in Rushka are getting ready to pogroms, and that Judofobia is on the rise (hello, Julia Ioffe!) in This Country… Gevalt-gevalt…

    And to celebrate the day of the Unity, here is an epic song, demonstrating that any national question could be solved to the satisfaction of all interested parties. ТакЪ победимЪ!

    Liked by 1 person

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