'Ethnicization of Russian Consciousness' Taking Place for First Time
by Paul Goble

On-going series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan

Window on Eurasia: Original Blog Article

Tallinn, December 9 - For the first time in Russian history, Russian consciousness is being "ethnicized" by combined impact of the dominant position of Russians in the Russian Federation, the anti-Russian policies of the former Soviet republics, and Western efforts to transform Russian society, according to a new book.

That book, "Russian Identity in the Post-Soviet Space," consists of essays prepared by investigators at the Moscow Institute of Russians Abroad. One of the chapters from this volume, by Moscow State Professor Aleksandr Barsenkov was posted on the institute's website yesterday http://www.russkie.org/index.php?module=fullitem&id=14388

According to Barsenkov, the domestic study of Russian identity did not really take off until the 1980s when the ethnic mobilization of other groups by elites led some commentators to ask why Russians had not been mobilized in the same way, but until very recently, he suggests, many writers have sought to avoid the implications of that pattern.

Moreover, another factor restraining the study of Russian ethnicity has been the survival of the shibboleth of Soviet times about a super-national "Soviet people" (sovetskiy narod) in the form of non-ethnic Russians (or rossiyane), something which ignores "the qualitatively new milieu of the existence of the Russian nation since the collapse of the USSR."

That milieu, he suggests, has been constructed by the coming together of three factors: First, in the former Soviet republics, "the new national identity is being constructed on the basis of the culture of the titular ethnoses which counterpose themselves to Russia and the Russians and include in themselves a powerful dose of russophobia."

That is reinforced within the Russian Federation by the behavior of the leaders of the non-Russian republics there, a pattern that could not fail and has not failed to generate a reaction among ethnic Russians who object to being defined by others in what Barsenkov suggests is often an offensive way.

Second, for the first time in history, Russians constitute "an overwhelming majority on the territory of their own state. By all international standards," he says, "Russia is a mono-national state where the majority of the population-more than 80 percent-consists of [ethnic] Russians."

But while they constitute a majority of the population, the government has promoted an alternative, non-ethnic definition of citizenship which unintentionally has called attention to the very different situation ethnic Russians find themselves in their country than do the titular nationalities in others.

And third, the processes of globalization and democratization sponsored by the West and directed, according to Barsenkov, against Russia up to and including plans for its dismemberment have made Russians more sensitive to their unique history and their equally unique mentality, exactly the reverse of what the authors of these policies hoped for.

"Taken together, these and other factors have led to a qualitatively new phenomenon, the ethnicization of the consciousness of Russian, which never existed before in their history," a development which the Moscow State professor says can be ignored only at the risk of national and inter-national explosions.

Unfortunately, he continues, many of those who participated in the destruction of the Soviet Union and the promotion of Western goals remain in power and say things like "Russia has finally acquired its natural borders" and that Russia must "integrate into 'the civilized West'" which inevitably inflame ethnic Russians by their "illusionary" dimensions.

And consequently, he concludes, "the extent to which Russia is a state in which Russians have played and do play an exceptional role (in consciousness, defense, economic development and cultural influence), then there is no constructive alternative to the recognition of the [ethnic] Russian basis of contemporary Russian statehood."

While many leaders in Moscow have not wanted to acknowledge that, Barsenkov says, the increasing frequency with which people are putting the question about the importance of an ethnic Russian national consciousness provides the basis for "a cautious optimism about the direction things are going in."

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