Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moscow Must Stress Commonality Not Diversity of Russia as a Whole but Divisions Not Unity of Each Nation within It, Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 1 – In his latest argument for the formation of “a civic Russian nation” [rossiiskaya natsiya], Valery Tishkov argues that the only way forward is for Moscow to lay more stress on commonality rather than diversity for the Russian population as a whole and more stress on divisions within its component nations than on communalities within any of them.

            In a lengthy article in NG-Tsenarii, the former nationalities minister and former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology says that for too long many in Russia have been too “obsessed” with ethnic differences rather than with commonalities of the people of the Russian Federation as a whole (

            And he says that those who say that national republics within the Russian Federation are “our inheritance from the USSR and that no one must occupy themselves with such risky things again” are wrong and that changes in such arrangements, reflecting changes in the broader society are not only inevitable but valuable in promoting broader unity.

            As is often the case, Tishkov stops short of drawing the obvious conclusions from his argument for Russia, preferring in almost every case to talk about them for other countries, as when he complains that no other post-Soviet state has become a federation and when he says that others are taking the lead in recognizing the complexities of ethnic identities.

            But from the perspective of the non-Russian nations within the borders of the Russian Federation and even what Moscow often dismissively calls “the sub-ethnoses” of the Russian nation, Tishkov’s argument here provides the intellectual basis for a new and broader attack on the integrity of both and even on the current ethno-federal structure of the country.

            The ethnographer begins his argument by pointing to the conclusions of a new book his institute has released, The Cultural Complexity of Contemporary Nations. That study stressed the ways that urbanization, migration, and the mixing of peoples have changed how many people see themselves, increasingly viewing themselves as of mixed ethnicity or as cosmopolitans.

            “This phenomenon of contemporary cultural complexity or super-complexity at the individual and collective levels … forces us to rethink the content of categories according to which the population has in the past been divided in various countries of the world,” Tishkov continues.

            He acknowledges that “the most powerful of these categories is of course the category of the nation,” but he insists that today the nation is the population of any state as a whole: “I do not know of any countries which have joined the UN and do not consider themselves nation states,” Tishkov says.

            The implications of that, of course, are that those who have states now can and should make their populations into single nations, while those nations that don’t have statehood now are to be absorbed or amalgamated into the nation defined in terms of the state they live in, a backdoor restoration of Friedrich Engels’ discredited concept of ‘history-less nations.”

            Tishkov talks about the value of the formula “unity in diversity” but it seems he is more supportive of that in countries beyond the borders of the Russian Federation – Ukraine should become a federal state with Russian as an official language, he says – than he is for peoples within the Russian state.

            “We have been held back by the creation of diversity,” he says, with many in Russia talking about the need to come up with a film about each nation and “show its distinctiveness relative to other peoples. This of course is also interesting but why are we do little itneressted in the common whole, in what makes us strong and friendly.”

            Might it not be the case that “it is time to speak not only about ‘friendship of the peoples,’” as the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation have, “but also about ‘a friendly people,’” thus stressing the commonality of the whole while downplaying the distinctions of the nations who make it up?

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