Friday, October 18, 2019

Neither Kazakhs Nor Kazakhstan’s Russians are Religiously Active but Both See Faiths as Defining Ethnicity, New Study Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 15 – Two-thirds of Kazakhstan’s residents say they are Muslims and 20 percent say they are Orthodox Christians, but fewer than ten percent of either take an active part in the religious life of the mosque or the church. At the same time, however, in the last generation, both groups have come to view religion as an important ethnic marker.

            That is, the authors of the new study, The Values of Kazakhstan Society in a Sociological Dimension, say, people in Kazakhstan regardless of their own faith or level of activity in it, view religion as linked to ethnicity, with “Kazakh meaning Muslim and “Russian meaning Orthodox” (stanradar.com/news/full/36655-kakoj-islam-predpochitajut-kazahstantsy.html).

            Approximately two out of three of all those surveyed selected the following phrase to express their relationship to religion: “I am a believer, but I practically don’t participate in religious life.” Fewer than ten percent said they participated regularly in the life of the mosque or the church. 

            Urban residents slightly more often than rural ones identify as believers, a pattern that challenges the widespread assumption that “the more patriarchal way of life in the village promotes the growth of religiosity,” the authors of the study say. Gender differences regarding belief are small; those with secondary education somewhat higher than those with higher.

            Roughly a third of those who identify as non-believers are distinguishe d by a high level of tolerance toward those who believe. Approximately half of the non-believers take part in the religious festivals of the people living around them. 

            Approximately 60 percent of respondents say that in Kazakhstan Islam should resemble that practiced by their ancestors; but far fewer, less than a third, say that it must not diverge in any way from the religion’s Arab roots. Kazakhs are divided as to how far individuals should go in defining their own Islamic belief.

            Intriguingly, trust in religious organizations is quite high in all regions, “more than 60 percent” say they trust them but only 21 percent indicate they do so completely.  In the center around the capital, “almost 20 percent of the respondents do not trust religious organizations,” the study found.

Russians Define Their Identity by What They Aren't Rather than by What They Are, Kolesnikov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 15 – Moscow journalist Andrey Kolesnikov writes that he “is a Russian” but that this self-designation “doesn’t explain anything” because it in most cases, it is defined not in a positive way according to what Russians believe themselves to be but rather by negation, according to what they are certain they are not.

            This is a reflection of the fact that “Russians still have a weak identity; one can even say an infantile one, despite constant appeals to ‘a thousand-year history’ and other terms that supposedly bind them together. But they bind them not to each other but only to the state (gazeta.ru/comments/column/kolesnikov/12752618.shtml?updated).

            When it comes to specifying who they are as a people, Russians do so in terms of their distance from Europe, Kolesnikov says. Indeed, their entire modern history has been one of seeking to become like or to distance themselves from Europe, perhaps by turning to the east, something that they threaten but have never really pursued.

            “However much Russia has tried to imitate a turn to the East,” the journalist continues, “all its culture, intellectual and material, is constructed as Western.” Talk about “a special way” which uses the Western term Sonderweg inevitably has lessened during periods of greater freedom or economic growth that has spread to the population.

            Polls show that and they also show that “it is impossible for years at a time to support one and the same high level of rallying around the flag” through the ginning up of a military threat.  At present, “the new Russian identity is attached to the political regime and the state, but Russia as a country … is a significantly broader term.”

            “The new historical community, the [non-ethnic] Russian people has been constructed artificially on the model of the Soviet people around political things; but you will not build a firm identity on such a basis. That is what the sad end of Soviet history testifies to,” Kolesnikov continues. 

But what is even more true is this: “Russian identity in recent years has been construed as negative: they don’t understand us – we have traditions and emotions, they have pragmatism” – and so on.  “All the same complex of incompleteness mixed together with a feeling of superiority, the eternal Russian ‘on the other hand.’”

This “negative identity,” the journalist suggests, may have “warmed up the besieged fortress” for a time. But it doesn’t provide the basis for collective action – and the various historical events, “victory in the Great Fatherland War, Gagarin’s flight, territorial acquisition, and the mythology of ‘natural wealth,’” don’t either.

            “Even the building of communism affected people more strongly than talk about fulfilling national projects.”

            Over the last year or so has begun “the gradual emancipation of the citizen from the sacred state. We are already great again, but we aren’t happy. The state is a symbolic construction which undoubtedly is supported by the majority of the population,” but its actuality with all its defects is hardly something people will rally around anymore.

            “I am a Russian,” Kolesnikov concludes. But “this doesn’t explain anything.” It is a hazy idea and one more of teenagers than adults.  “The young [non-ethnic] Russian nation has approached the period of its maturation.” And it is time to break away from the mythologized images of the state and figure our what the real positive content of the Russian nation is.

            Unless that happens, Russians will remain at the level of viewers of television talk shows where the stars promote “a feeling of pride for Stalinist industrialization and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” hardly enough for the nation to act in its own name and not merely as an appendage and creation of the state.
Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 15 – Moscow journalist Andrey Kolesnikov writes that he “is a Russian” but that this self-designation “doesn’t explain anything” because it in most cases, it is defined not in a positive way according to what Russians believe themselves to be but rather by negation, according to what they are certain they are not.

            This is a reflection of the fact that “Russians still have a weak identity; one can even say an infantile one, despite constant appeals to ‘a thousand-year history’ and other terms that supposedly bind them together. But they bind them not to each other but only to the state (gazeta.ru/comments/column/kolesnikov/12752618.shtml?updated).

            When it comes to specifying who they are as a people, Russians do so in terms of their distance from Europe, Kolesnikov says. Indeed, their entire modern history has been one of seeking to become like or to distance themselves from Europe, perhaps by turning to the east, something that they threaten but have never really pursued.

            “However much Russia has tried to imitate a turn to the East,” the journalist continues, “all its culture, intellectual and material, is constructed as Western.” Talk about “a special way” which uses the Western term Sonderweg inevitably has lessened during periods of greater freedom or economic growth that has spread to the population.

            Polls show that and they also show that “it is impossible for years at a time to support one and the same high level of rallying around the flag” through the ginning up of a military threat.  At present, “the new Russian identity is attached to the political regime and the state, but Russia as a country … is a significantly broader term.”

            “The new historical community, the [non-ethnic] Russian people has been constructed artificially on the model of the Soviet people around political things; but you will not build a firm identity on such a basis. That is what the sad end of Soviet history testifies to,” Kolesnikov continues. 

But what is even more true is this: “Russian identity in recent years has been construed as negative: they don’t understand us – we have traditions and emotions, they have pragmatism” – and so on.  “All the same complex of incompleteness mixed together with a feeling of superiority, the eternal Russian ‘on the other hand.’”

This “negative identity,” the journalist suggests, may have “warmed up the besieged fortress” for a time. But it doesn’t provide the basis for collective action – and the various historical events, “victory in the Great Fatherland War, Gagarin’s flight, territorial acquisition, and the mythology of ‘natural wealth,’” don’t either.

            “Even the building of communism affected people more strongly than talk about fulfilling national projects.”

            Over the last year or so has begun “the gradual emancipation of the citizen from the sacred state. We are already great again, but we aren’t happy. The state is a symbolic construction which undoubtedly is supported by the majority of the population,” but its actuality with all its defects is hardly something people will rally around anymore.

            “I am a Russian,” Kolesnikov concludes. But “this doesn’t explain anything.” It is a hazy idea and one more of teenagers than adults.  “The young [non-ethnic] Russian nation has approached the period of its maturation.” And it is time to break away from the mythologized images of the state and figure our what the real positive content of the Russian nation is.

            Unless that happens, Russians will remain at the level of viewers of television talk shows where the stars promote “a feeling of pride for Stalinist industrialization and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” hardly enough for the nation to act in its own name and not merely as an appendage and creation of the state.