Russia as a European Nation and Its Eurasian Mission door Valery TISHKOV in Politichesky Klass magazine, 2006.
The annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly is a political document reflecting the views, concerns, and aspirations of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration. This article examines the president’s perception of the country and its people, the objectives of nation building, and Russia’s place in the modern world. It analyzes the doctrinal essence of some of Putin’s most important statements, their evolution in time, and the modern context. After all, statements by the head of state are not simply target-setting guidelines. They are also directives that not only reflect reality, but also create reality per se.
Russian and foreign experts underestimated the linguistic and symbolic aspects of socio-political life in the country, despite the recognition and usage of these in practice.
THE RECOGNITION OF THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE
Vladimir Putin has made an important move toward asserting the concept of “Russian people” in political language and in public awareness. The term is used in the text of his state-of-the-nation address as a historical category (“the Russian people has for centuries remained silent”), as an analog of the Soviet people (“the breakup of the Soviet Union became a real drama for the Russian people”), and as the contemporary “people of Russia.” Prior to this address, one of the president’s most definitive statements occurred during his address on Russia Day, June 12, 2003: “Wherever we might have been born or wherever we might have grown up, this is our Motherland. All together, we are the single, undivided, and powerful Russian people.”
Strange enough, this basic concept has yet to catch on. Those who understand the concept exclusively in the plural (‘the peoples of Russia’) reject it, as do those who believe there are only one people in the country, constituted by ethnic Russians (russkie). The concept of the ‘Russian people’ (that is, the citizens of Russia, or rossiyane) is a malicious invention, they believe, designed to abolish nations or, on the contrary, to downgrade the status and role of the Russian nation. Such views are popular not only among ethno-nationalists of various descriptions, but also among a substantial part of the academic and political community. These individuals developed the belief that ‘peoples’ and ‘nations’ are ethnicities of different degrees of maturity, while persons living in the same state, working at the same enterprise, and residing in the same town – even members of a single family – with different ethnic backgrounds cannot be a single people or members of the same nation.
In the Soviet era, political advocates and apologists of ‘mature socialism,’ stretching the bounds of credibility, classified the Soviet people (a phenomenon that existed in reality), as a ‘new historical community of people’ since the terms ‘peoples’ and ‘nations’ applied to ethnic communities. This classification produced a clumsy theoretical innovation regarding a purportedly new type of community of people.
In fact, there was no new historical typology in that community. The representatives of large states always have a multiethnic makeup, but this does not prevent them from acquiring the label of, for example, Brazilian, Indian, Chinese, or Spanish.
Soviet social engineers were somewhat perplexed by the need to come up with a descriptive name of the people from this new state – the Soviet Union. This new name was critical because ‘Russia,’ as an administrative/state designation, ceased to exist, while the concept of the ‘Russian people’ dropped out of the language. At some point, the officials decided in favor of ‘Soviet.’ In the 1970s and 1980s, this title struck such deep roots that the outside world, especially amongst the more educated segment, came up with the description ‘Soviets’ (along with ‘Russians’) with reference to people hailing from the Soviet Union, and occasionally used disparagingly – ‘Sovs.’
Later, during the Gorbachev-era liberalization, ‘Sovietness,’ especially its ideological component, became a subject of criticism and denunciation. That gave the opponents of the Soviet Union, and therefore of the Soviet people, cause to say that it was an ideologically unviable construct.
Today, we conveniently forget that the population of the Russian Empire was called the Russian people; it was one of the basic concepts and on par with the concept of the ‘czar’s subjects.’ Furthermore, the concept of ‘government by the people,’ which had gained ground since the 18th-century French Revolution, was not much in favor with contemporary monarchical rulers, while the Jacobin understanding of the nation as ‘co-citizenship’ was rejected so as not to undermine the divine origin of ruling authority.
It should be added here that before the Soviet era, rossiyane and russkie were interchangeable since “Russian” applied not only to the Great Russians (Velikorossy), the Minor Russians (Malorossy) and the Belorussians, but also to all those who had adopted the Orthodoxy or, according to liberal Russian economist and political scientist Pyotr Struve, were “culturally involved.” This is borne out by, among other things, the lately re-issued edition of Mikhail Zabylin’s pre-revolution (pre-1917) book about the customs and traditions of the Russian people. It includes a wealth of information on Cheremiss, Tatar, and other cultural traditions within the population of Russia.
The concept of ‘Russians’ acquired a narrow ethnic meaning during the period of ‘socialist nation-building’ when, beginning with the 1926 census, the term
‘Russian’ applied only to the Great Russians. Eventually, the designation ‘Great Russians’ fell out of use as a societal description and subsequently as a form of ethnic identity. Yet, following the introduction of internal passports in 1932, many Soviet citizens insisted that their ethnicity indicate ‘Great Russian.’ Today, young Russians are puzzled to see such an ethnicity description in their grandparents’ passports that is no longer on the official list of ethnic groups. Thus, a purely formal re-designation of ethnicity caused a change in reality, while there were no particular ‘ethnic transformations’ or ‘nation-building’ to support it.
The change of ethnic identity from Great Russian to Russian affected the former Minor Russians and Belorussians. In the 1920s and 1930s, many of the Russified Minor Russians converted into Russians as opposed to Ukrainians on the basis that Russian was a more prestigious and even secure ethnic group (especially during the period of political reprisals). This is why, according to the 1937 and the 1939 censuses, the number of Ukrainians declined, while the number of Russians grew by several million, even in Ukraine. Incidentally, this fact is ignored in estimating the number of famine victims in the early 1930s.
The increase in the number of Ukrainians, together with the decline in the number of Russians by almost 3 million between the 1989 and the 2001 census in independent Ukraine, shows that re-registration was commonplace. “The birth rates have not dropped; there has been neither an exodus of Russians nor a massive influx of Ukrainians. Who has ‘eliminated’ the three million Russians then?” opponents to the campaign for famine reparations to Ukraine may ask.
Since the once broad and non-ethnic category of Russians was divided into three ethnicities – Russians (the former Great Russians), Ukrainians (the former Minor Russians), and Belorussians, the strictly ethnic interpretation of ‘Russian’ and things Russian is still valid. It will hardly be possible to reintroduce the former interpretations – that is to say, restore the category of ‘Great Russians,’ let alone ‘Russians’ in the broad sense of the word. For this to happen, Ukrainians would have to agree to become Minor Russians and, together with Belorussians, recognize the double (vertical and not mutually exclusive) form of ethnic identity – Minor Russian and Russian at the same time, as Ukrainian-born Russian writer Nikolai Gogol once identified himself.
This form of identity is no longer possible for political, cultural, emotional, and purely psychological reasons.
Members of the Russian Cabinet – Alexei Kudrin, Victor Khristenko, German Gref, Mikhail Fradkov, Sergei Shoigu, and others – are representatives of one people regardless of the unfortunate formality that the question of ethnicity has taken in Russia. These are people with the same culture, yet different ethnic backgrounds. A Russian Jew or a Russian Armenian, for example, are quite respectable samples of multiple ethnic identity among Russians, that is to say from among the Russian people (incidentally, quite common in the pre-Soviet era). It is along these lines that the notion of the ‘Russian people’ and a Russian national identity asserted itself. In the view of some pundits, “it is time that Russia be entrusted to Russians” (Alexander Tsipko); such writings and appeals by ethno-nationalists represent the path of regress and ruinous for the country.
AMBIVALENT LANGUAGE – MURKY POLITICS
Political and public figures in contemporary Russia already make a distinction between rossiiskiy (related to Russia) and russkiy (Russian), even though the former replaced sovietskiy (Soviet) – or rather, it returned from the pre-Soviet era – as a form of national identity a little more than 10 years ago. Nevertheless, it is still difficult, for example, to describe Alexander Pushkin – long heralded as a “great russkiy poet” – as a rossiiskiy poet. The Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedia (Vol. 50, 1898 edition) describes Pushkin as “the greatest Russian poet,” while Gogol is mentioned as “the greatest writer in Russian literature” (Vol. 17, 1893 edition).
Russian literature still has every reason to be called not only rossiiskiy, but also russkiy. A wealthy Russian Jew established a prestigious prize for literature, for example, the winners of which are referred to as “Russian cultural figures” even though by their ethnicity they are not only Russian, but also Jewish, Uzbek, German, Ukrainian, and so forth. There is nothing contradictory about this linguistic heterogeneity. The Russian language, which is not the exclusive property of Russians per se, allows to describe the authors who write in the Russian language and their works as russkiy. Nonetheless, it is acceptable if the attribute rossiiskiy characterizes all of these modern meanings, carrying the Soviet-era connotation of exclusive ethnicity, including, e.g., articles on Pushkin and Gogol in the upcoming edition of a new Russian encyclopedia.
What is clearly unacceptable, however, is another instance of linguistic ambivalence with regard to the terms russkiy and rossiiskiy that exists beyond Russia’s borders. To date, there is only one word and its derivatives there: ‘Russia’ and ‘Russians.’
The overwhelming majority of the outside world believes that exclusively Russians populate Russia, while these people are waging a war against a tiny nation, the Chechens, who are fighting for their freedom. Meanwhile, the speaker of the Russian parliament who declared the Dzhokhar Dudayev regime unlawful was a Chechen (Ruslan Khazbulatov); a Jew (Lev Rokhlin) commanded the federal army that destroyed Chechnya’s capital Grozny, while there were people of different ethnic backgrounds among the Russian servicemen. The world at large ignores these crucial facts in order to portray Russians as ruthless colonizers. To the outside world, Russians rule their country and oppress ethnic groups. Thus, the concept of the ‘Russian people’ does not really exist for the outside world: otherwise, the legitimacy and integrity of the state formed by this people would have to be recognized.
What is the solution to this situation? Russia must introduce into foreign languages, through a more accurate transliteration, two words that represent the two different notions that actually exist in the Russian language. This requires that the letter ‘o’ replace the letter ‘u’ in the word Russia. Then, foreigners will not immediately connect Rossia – its citizens, economy, army, culture, and so forth – to just one ethnic group, a community that will preserve its current designation as ‘Russians.’ Thus, the outside world will not perceive the Russian army, its generals and servicemen who fought the Chechen separatists as “Russians fighting against Chechens.” The present author in the mid-1990s made the proposal to amend Foreign Ministry records accordingly (see: Tishkov V. What Is Rossia? Prospects for Nation-Building. Security Dialogue, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 1995). Only a handful of our foreign colleagues, however, started using the country’s name in the more accurate transcription (for example, Anthropology and Archeology of Eurasia, a journal published by Russia specialist Prof. Marjorie Balzer, adopted the term). Presumably, the change of even one letter in a word that has worldwide significance requires considerable efforts at the official level. In fact, a precedent was set when, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the names of some newly independent states were changed: e.g., Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Belarus.
Why is it so important to assert the notion ‘Russian people’ as synonymous with ‘Russians’ and not as the refusal to recognize the existence of other ethnic groups amongst the people of Russia? Because the plural form (‘peoples’) weakens the legitimacy of the state, necessarily formed by a territorial community, or demos, which, in accordance with the rules of international law, is a self-determined people.
The Soviet Union’s People’s Deputy and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once proposed an amendment to the draft text of the oath of allegiance to be taken by the first president of the Soviet Union, namely that in the phrase “I hereby swear to the people of the Soviet Union” the single noun be replaced with the plural form. The poet may not believe it, but this symptomatic amendment played a destructive, even if not immediately obvious, role in the disintegration of a once single country.
Many people strongly believe that it is not politically correct to designate the population of a country as a single people. Here is just one example. As a member of the editorial board of the New Russian Encyclopedia and one of its authors, I failed to get an entry titled Rossiiskiy Narod (the People of Russia) included in its volume devoted to Russia. Just as in previous editions, I had to write an article entitled Peoples of Russia, not the Ethnic Composition of the People of Russia, as I should have.
Due to outdated perceptions as to what actually constitutes a community known as ‘people’ or ‘nation,’ there is a misrepresentation of the country’s image: it has a territory, it has an economy, it has a capital, and it has bureaucracy, but there is no people or nation as such. Article 1 of the Constitution (adopted in 1993) recognizes the existence of a “multi-ethnic people,” but a “multi-people nation” would have been preferable. I reminded Sergei Shakhrai about that proposal when the work on the draft Constitution was still in progress, but stubborn stereotypes prevailed.
In the new Russia, just as in the Soviet Union, the fundamental categories ‘people’ and ‘nation,’ which are key to the legitimacy of the State, are relegated with increasing frequency and imprudence to the disposal of ethnic groups. Furthermore, these groups are rather hypothetical, constituting not actual groups per se but, rather, forms of collective identity that exist within the people of Russia. They are constantly changing, have a complex, multi-tier nature, and are of but secondary importance for each specific individual, compared to other forms of identity. These are the axioms of modern science, but not of the domestic social sciences poisoned by the quasi-scientific theories of ethnic “passionarity” and thinly veiled nationalistic views.
This is why even loyal and patriotic politicians and scholars still perceive the notion of ‘people of Russia,’ which is of fundamental importance to the country, as an agenda for the future. “We are now building a Russian civil nation,” Yevgeny Trofimov, chairman of the State Duma Nationalities Committee, and other high-profile politicians usually say. Meanwhile, the opponents of President Putin and the Russian political establishment, not to mention the diehard nationalists, maliciously write about the failure of the Russian nation-building project. Actually, this is the same pattern of thinking – positing that it is necessary to form a new body comprised of diverse ethnicities – for a new nation to be born.
However, this is a serious mistake. No one will ever “reform” ethnic Ossetians, Tatars, or Yakuts, for example, into Russians or vice versa. These people are already rossiyane, the Russian nation, while at the same time they are ethnically what they consider themselves to be. Nation-building should be interpreted as a kind of social engineering designed to unify the cultural identities of the people of Russia. Most importantly, it is the practical work of forwarding ideas that reflect and stimulate common features and values, including civic nationalism or Russian patriotism, that are vital for the State.
This program does not require centuries, or even decades, as some people believe. Thus, for example, the concept ‘British nation’ did not replace ‘English nation’ until quite recently. This change did not occur, however, for the Irish, Scots, or the descendants of the new migrants to become English, but for all of the country’s residents to feel themselves members of one nation. Englishness, which has not disappeared into thin air, has taken a subordinate position to Britishness, and everyone has benefited from this.
Likewise, following the collapse of the Franco regime, the concept of ‘Spanish nation’ struck root not as a designation of the dominant Castile component, but as an inclusive category comprising Catalonians, Basques, and other regional/cultural communities. Overall, the word ‘nation’ is generally used today not in its ethnic but civic, multicultural meaning. Even the most avid proponents of the concept of ethno-nation, the Hungarians, have surrendered their positions in favor of its dual usage – as citizens of Hungary (a political or civic nation) and as ethnic Hungarians (an ethno-nation or a cultural nation).
Some linguistically-nationalized minorities or majorities may worry by the prospect that the formal introduction of the concept of civic nation could cause them to lose their national status. These concerns, however, are groundless since incorporation into a civic nation is even more beneficial for minorities than for majorities. Majorities do not stand to lose anything, nor do they gain anything. The Castilians, for example, as the ethnic core of the Spanish nation, realized that establishing their own ethno-nation meant the destruction of Spain. The English tolerated the formula ‘British nation’ to weaken separatist nationalism on the part of the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Han Chinese, in the name of the country’s unity and stability, accept innovations, including a new hieroglyph designating the nation (mingdu) as the entire Chinese population where non-Han minorities number more than 100 million people. To ethnic Russians, this form of nation-building or national identity appears to be the only viable proposition. The essence of nation-building, however, consists in its formal recognition, which begins with a verbal act.
In this context, it would be appropriate to recall President Vladimir Putin’s statement at a conference in Cheboksary on February 5, 2004: “I suppose that today we have every reason to speak about the people of Russia as a single nation: representatives of various ethnic and religious groups in Russia perceive themselves as a single people. They use all of their assets, their cultural diversity in the interest of the entire society and the State. We are obliged to preserve and strengthen our national historical unity.”
Therefore, the Russian (rossiisky) nation is undoubtedly a project that has taken shape, formalized by the Russian Federation’s statehood, and consummated in the historical-cultural and socio-political commonality of the country’s population. Russia’s unity is ensured not only by the task of preserving the State within the existing territorial borders. As Vladimir Putin noted in his state-of-the-nation address, the recognition of a common identity and its acceptance into Russia’s socio-political consciousness – based on Russia as a heterogeneous whole – is no less important than the protection of State borders. States exist principally because each new generation of citizens reproduces and shares a common perception of their country, recognizing themselves as a single people.
AN INTERNAL AND GLOBAL MISSION
Vladimir Putin has on many occasions referred to the historical community known as the ‘Russian people’ or the ‘Russian nation,’ and every time the expert and political community was either confused or oblivious to the comment. The 2005 state-of-the-nation address not just mentioned these two concepts, but even forwarded an apparently provocative and non-PC proposition: “There is no doubt that the civilizing mission of the Russian nation on the Eurasian continent should be continued.”
I am not in a position to judge about the whole continent, but with regard to the former Soviet Union’s area, the proposition about a civilizing mission (understood not as Messianism but as a general cultural and Kulturtraeger role) appears correct although the words ‘civilization’ and ‘mission’ are not purely academic. This interesting statement, at least in some way, stands up to the stereotype about the fallen “Soviet Empire” that purportedly oppressed and obstructed the historical development of the ethnic periphery with the Russians playing the role of assimilators. The imperial paradigm as an explanation of the nature and causes of the breakup of the Soviet Union is inconsistent, and rejected by the more astute historians, political analysts, and politicians. For example, studies on the history of ‘nation-building’ and ‘national policy’ – that is to say, the history of the country as a multiethnic State and its policy toward Soviet minorities – have been published in the United States (Suny R.G. The Revenge of the Past. Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford, 1993; T. Martin. The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. Ithaca, 2001).
This refers not to the mission of ethnic Russians but of the Russian nation, which has always comprised people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Thus, for instance, Russian (above all Kazan) Tatars played an important role in pre-Revolution colonization and the Soviet cultural modernization of the Central Asian region and its population. Russian Ukrainians accounted for a substantial share of the original inhabitants and settlers in East Siberia and especially the Russian Far East. They influenced the development of these regions, including the sparse population of native peoples. Descendants from the Baltic region, Transcaucasia, and Ukraine constituted the core of the Soviet political and party leadership, especially during the period of the so-called nation-state building and industrialization.
What is the essence of this mission? The civilizing mission of the Russian nation, including its State as represented by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, comprises two basic aspects – an internal mission and an external mission. The internal mission concerned itself with economic, ethno-cultural, and political intercourse with Eurasia within the Russian nation (its geographic borders and ethno-religious composition constantly changed). The external mission involved the economic and industrial development of large tracts of Eurasian territory and the spread of European norms of law and cultural values.
The civilizing mission of the Russian nation consisted in spreading across a large part of Eurasian territory (the European North, the Volga region, Siberia, and the Russian Far East) the norms of the world’s two principal cultural systems, together with their inculcation among the local population. One of them was Christianity in the form of Russian Orthodoxy. This civilizing mission targeted not so much the followers of other world religions (Buddhism or Islam), which had long been practiced by a part of the Russian people, as it did that part of the population that had not been converted into any of the world religions (following the so-called traditional faiths and practices). Christianity played a similar role in other parts of the world, especially in America, with regard to the native population.
The second cultural reproduction and dissemination system is the linguistic system, based on the Russian language and the Russian-language culture. The Russian language and Russian-Soviet culture (from Alexander Pushkin to Nikolai Gogol, to Mikhail Sholokhov to Chinghiz Aitmatov) played a prominent civilizing role on the Eurasian continent, not confined to the territory of the historical Russian state. Russian has been and will remain the language of cultural interaction and mutual enrichment by representatives of various ethnic cultures within the bounds of one national culture. It has been and will remain the language for spreading the achievements of world civilization throughout the former Soviet Union. Russian is a vehicle through which the majority of the population in most of the newly independent states comes into contact with the world’s cultural heritage and modern mass culture (in recent years this function in the Baltic countries has also been performed by the English language), thereby also broadcasting their own cultural achievements to the world.
The Russian nation has made an invaluable contribution to the cultural legacy of the peoples of Eastern and Western Europe. The European culture of the past is inconceivable without the Russian cultural component, and this contribution will continue in the future, albeit on a more limited scale (without the new national cultures of the former Soviet republics that were once part of Russian and Soviet culture).
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the internal component of the civilizing mission of the Russian people has gone into retreat, while its external component has grown. In this respect, President Putin is right when he refers to the Eurasian continent as the territory of the former Soviet Union beyond Russia’s borders. This mission existed in the past and it still exists today, no matter how much Russia’s detractors denigrate the value of the modern cultural process. It is only necessary to consider the kind of books and magazines that are read, the music that people listen to, and the language spoken by the citizens and political leaders of the newly independent states.
Of course, the content and value of the civilizing mission evolves historically, and it is not always an exclusively positive, one-way process. Nor is it always viewed in the same way by representatives of different generations and different regions within the zone of cultural influence and cultural intercourse. It is not only the exponents of Russian culture, or even the Russian-language culture, that have contributed important civilizing contacts as part of the internal mission. As the Russian people incorporated elements of different cultures and developed contacts with the outside world, it took in and assimilated much of that foreign experience. Some components of Russia’s culture were the result of extensive evolution, including the experience of many peoples and regions (Transcaucasia, Central Asia, the Baltic region, Moldavia, Buryatia) in state-building, literature, and religion.
These mature and highly respectable cultural traditions formed complex interactions with the dominant Russian cultural component and the central ruling authority. Much was lost or destroyed, but not more so than in the evolution of the German nation on the basis of the Prussian component, the evolution of the British nation on the basis of the English component, or the evolution of the Chinese nation on the basis of the Han component. The civilizing mission of the Russian nation in Eurasia bore especially little resemblance to the missions of external colonial empires that also contained a civilizing component, yet the nature of relationships therein was based not on interaction (even if not always equivalent), but on a rigid domination-subordination pattern along the mother country-colony lines. The inclusion of the human resource and religious-cultural components of the former subjects into the dominant nations of the colonial civilizing mission is occurring today, albeit via mass migration of people from former colonies to their mother countries.
How is it possible for this mission, in Putin’s expression, to carry on? The future civilizing role of Russia and the people of Russia is in some respect preordained and unmistakable. However, this role sometimes also seems barely distinguishable, and on other occasions, unfathomable. So why should the mission continue? Can it be just bravado of a “failed country,” a term many domestic and foreign experts apply to Russia? Russia’s predestination to carry on this mission remains inviolable if it continues to control a substantial part of the world’s mineral resources, and, furthermore, that without these resources, civilization, at least on the Eurasian continent, will not be able to exist or develop. The Russian nation remains the only custodian of the cultural value system based on the Russian language, the Cyrillic alphabet and Orthodox Christianity, which is still highly relevant for Eurasia, even though other cultural systems remain and new ones will grow within the Russian nation, including other world systems (Judeo-Christian, Euro-Islamic, Buddhist-Mongolian, and others). Judging by the state of Russia’s resources, intellectual potential and cultural production, the mission in these two spheres has a viable future.
There is yet another new purpose in the continuation of Russia’s Eurasian mission within the next several decades. This purpose is to preserve the memory and identity of former Soviet citizens, concerned with their affiliation with the Soviet people, as well as to perform the function as a host country for all those who continue to feel an attachment to Russia and would even prefer to work and live in Russia.
The president’s state-of-the-nation address highlights the need to eliminate anti-migration attitudes and xenophobia toward our former compatriots – attitudes deeply ingrained in the minds of both politicians and ordinary citizens. The rapidly developing economy and labor market in Russia, together with its shrinking and aging population, confront the country with the formidable problem of population reproduction. Other countries in Western Europe face exactly the same problem. Nevertheless, in 2003, the 25 EU countries managed to increase their population by 1.9 million, with immigrants accounting for 90 percent of this growth. By contrast, Russia has been pursuing a policy of reducing migration from the former Soviet republics, thus undermining its own national security.
The president’s state-of-the-nation address does not say that migration from the newly independent states should be an objective or a yardstick in evaluating the performance of the country’s migration services. Rather, it states that Russia is interested in an inflow of qualified, legal labor resources and that “ultimately, every legal immigrant must be given an opportunity to become a citizen of the Russian Federation.” Furthermore, the current law and citizenship acquisition procedure, as well as the inherent corruption, do not allow a newcomer to become a “legal immigrant.” Over the past decade, the Russian people and its State have been performing the unseemly role of alienating and exploiting their former compatriots, at the same time deriving huge profits from their labor. There is a glaring gap in the civilizing mission here, caused not only by the narrow-minded considerations of political expediency and security, but also by selfish motives. There is even some partial revenge for breaking away from Russia.
The most attractive territory for internal migration within the former Soviet Union was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – that is to say, modern Russia. RSFSR residents also moved to other Soviet republics. As a rule, this movement was due to labor migration, oftentimes tinged with propaganda and youthful romance. In fact, migration exchange was one of the components of the civilizing mission since qualified cadres from the central part of the country and “ethnic Russian regions” created an economic and cultural capability that constituted the foundation of independent statehood of the newly independent states following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Local cadres, trained at universities in central Russia, and specialists who went to the Soviet republics under a program whereby graduates were required to perform some service to the state after graduation performed an extremely important Kulturtraeger mission by wedding rich local tradition with Soviet cultural achievements. In the past several decades of the existence of the Soviet Union, more Soviet citizens came to the RSFSR than left it. Those were for the most part young specialists and workers at priority construction projects, as well as military servicemen who wished to stay in Russia upon demobilization. Furthermore, military service in the RSFSR or in other regions played a significant role in the cultural and educational development of residents of the Union Republics.
The fact that migration to Russia continued after the Soviet Union disintegrated was not a new phenomenon. Furthermore, during the period between the 1979 and 1989 censuses, the number of people who had moved to the RSFSR from other republics was higher than in between the 1989 and 2002 censuses. It is another matter that in the past decade, migration from Russia to the newly independent states practically ceased. Russia will remain attractive to our former compatriots for a long time yet – at least as long as the living standards, employment and career opportunities here are better than in other countries. However, this situation cannot last forever. The discrimination, deception, humiliation, harassment and even violence that immigrants have been experiencing in Russia of late have already discouraged many people from taking such risks, turning the tide of migration toward Eastern and Western Europe, Turkey, and even China.
Despite the ongoing population decline and the growing labor market, as well as the recognition by a small part of the state bureaucracy that immigration is necessary and useful for the country’s development, Russia’s migration and other services continue to put the main thrust in their work on “migration control” and the deportation of illegal migrants. While in 2004, Russia’s population declined by 700,000, the authorities deported 90,000 potential employees and citizens, spending more than 100 million rubles of the budget in the process. At least as many people had to leave under the threat of deportation and violence.
In this respect, the results of Russia’s civilizing mission are rather controversial. On the one hand, for more than a decade the country has served as an employment market and a source of sustenance for millions of citizens of the newly independent states. On the other hand, Russia has placed these people in a humiliating position, limiting the number of those who would like to live in Russia while giving them a raw deal. As a result, the country lost a historic chance to attract a segment of the people from the former Soviet Republics. Russia took its guidance from utopian notions that say “ethnic Russians” should return to their “historical Motherland” while others should remain “in their states.” This ignored the fact that Russia’s civilizing role with regard to its former compatriots had made them in many respects not simply Soviet people but people of Russia, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds (Russian, Tatar, Kyrgyz, Uzbek or Georgian). Russia imprudently decided to abandon this mission. Today, we must resume this mission and take it to a new level.
Valery Tishkov, professor, Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This article was originally published in Russian in the Politichesky Klass magazine.