Staunton, January 19 – In an interview in which he declares that “if the 20th century was the century of minorities, the 21st will be the century of majorities,” Valery Tishkov, the former head of Moscow’s Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says that the occupation of Crimea “mechanically” restored the ethnic Russian share of the country’s population to its 1989 level.
Interviewed by Vladimir Averin and Gii Saralidze of Vestnik Kavkaza and Vesti FM, the Moscow ethnographer makes a number of other observations in line with his majoritarian perspective (vestikavkaza.ru/articles/To-chto-Rossiya-unikalnoe-mnogonatsionalnoe-gosudarstvo-zabluzhdenie.html).
Tishkov says that Russia is far from the most multi-national state in the world and that what matters is now how many nationalities or ethnic groups there are but “what meaning and importance are devoted to them.” And he argues that many in the former Soviet states devote entirely too much importance to nationality in the ethnic sense.
“Whenever [he] is asked how many people live in Russia,” Tishkov continues, he says “One people lives in Russia – the Russian [rossiisky] narod,” a response that he suggests corresponds better to international practice where nationality means citizenship rather than membership in a particular ethnic community.
Using ethnicity as the basis for organizing the state carries with it risks, as the case of the USSR showed, he says, but the centrifugal forces ethnicity energized were restrained by such powerful “limiting factors” as the CPSU, the secret services, “Pravda” “and many other institutions which held things together.”
And consequently, it is important to recognize, Tishkov continues, that “the USSR was not a prisonhouse of peoples but a cradle of nations,” and after it has “fostered” them, the country fell apart “along these borders because there everything was ready for that.”
That would seem to suggest, his interviewers opine, that the country might be better off without any support for such identities; but Tishkov argues that people need these ethnic identities to fit themselves into an increasingly interdependent world. Everyone has to make choices about this, and sometimes these are purely instrumental.
Thus, about a quarter of the Russian population consists of people of mixed ethnicity, although the Russian censuses do not give them a chance to register that. As a result, it counts about two million Ukrainians fewer than there actually are in the Russian Federation, just as Ukrainian censuses count about two million ethnic Russians fewer than there actually are.
This reflects the fact that such “people simply have preferred to call themselves Russians in Russia and Ukrainians in Ukraine,” he says, especially if they have to make a choice because many people include multiple identities because of history and their own often complicated biographies.
Attitudes toward majoritie and minorities are changing, Tishkov observes. “If the 20th century was the century of minorities, then the 21st will be the century of majorities.” In the past, Russia like many other countries devoted much attention to the rights of minorities and provided them support.
But now, as ever more people recognize in ever more countries, there are majorities and these “have rights, interests and demands. If on the periphery, minorities live better and the majority nationality, the basic nucleus and community, the ethnic Russians worse … this is a big problem for our country.”
And that problem in turn can generate “the nationalism of the majority which is sometimes called ‘Russian nationalism.’ The nationalism of minorities is expressed in the form of separatism, but the nationalism of the majority in the form of chauvinism,” the ethnographer says.
According to Tishkov, the ethnic structure of Russia is relatigvely stable even though overall the population is declining because most of the minorities have demographic trends like the majority nationality. “Russians form the majority, about 82 percent,” because “the two million Russians” added after the annexation of Crimea ensured tha they now have the same percentage they did in 1989.
“Assimilation is also helping the ethnic Rusisans,” he says. “Russia’s Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Mordvinians, people who live in Orthodox culture are making a voluntary choice in favor of Russian culture and the Russian language.” Over the last 20 years, however, “no peoples [in Russia] have disappeared.”
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