Thursday, February 25, 2016

Emil Pain on Why Many Post-Soviet Jewish Emigres from Russia Back Putin’s ‘Russian World’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – Unlike the Jews who left the Soviet Union, many Jews who have left Russia and other CIS countries have not integrated into their new countries of residence, maintain close ties with the countries from which they left, and often are strong supporters of Vladimir Putin and his “Russian world,” according to Emil Pain.

            The Moscow sociologist who specializes on ethnicity and ethnic conflict points out that many Kremlin supporters say this is “a real manifestation of ‘the Russian world,’” but in fact, he suggests, there are a variety of reasons for this pattern and many do not support such claims (

            In order to understand why so many recent Russian Jewish emigres support Putin and his actions, Pain says that he surveyed his friends in Facebook and via other means  to determine the level of their integration in their new countries, their work and status there, and “the main rhetorical clichés they use in political discussions.”

            As of now, he says, he has received “about a hundred” responses, and he has added to them materials collected by Sergey Medvedev from his Facebook friends and from discussions about this issue on Radio Liberty’s Russian Service.

            Between 1946 and 1986, Pain says, “almost 300,000” people left the USSR “on the Jewish quota,” which included both Jews and members of their families of other nationalities. Between 1990 and 2007, he continues, “more than 1.6 million Jews and members of their families” left Russia and other CIS countries for residence abroad.

            According to his research, the Moscow expert says, “not a single one of those” who left before 1991 is among the active supporters of Putin and the Russian world. Instead, “the last wave of mass emigration has become the basis of Putin’s ‘Russian world.’” This difference in behavior undermines the Kremlin’s claims.

            It shows that despite what both Russian conservatives and Russian liberals believe, there is no “innate anti-liberalism among Russian people” and they are not condemned forever to live according to “’the cultural code’ of the Horde.”  Instead, this pattern indicates “not the continuity of views but the ability of people to undergo rapid ideological transformations.”

            “These people,” Pain writes, “to a significant degree broke their ties with the values and ideas which until recently had dominated in the Jewish milieu,” including “above all oppositional attitudes to authoritarianism in all its manifestations (to tsarism, Stalinism, and the fuehrer principle) and also to great power chauvinism.”

            “How did it happen that not a small segment of the Russian Jewish emigration of the new wave turned out to be in one column with the Black Hundreds supporters and Stalinists?” he asks rhetorically, suggesting that there are so many reasons that they cannot even be enumerated in the space of a single article.

            In the 1970s and 1980s, Pain continues, “Jewish emigres were to a large degree idealists: they fled from the USSR to their ‘historic motherland’ or to the US, ‘choosing freedom and forever breaking their ties with the Soviet Union.” Not surprisingly, they rapidly integrated themselves into their new societies and sought to be useful to them.

            The post-Soviet Jewish emigres, in contrast, “have not been motivated by a desire to return to their ‘historic homeland’ or to choose freedom.” Instead, Pain says, “their decisions were more pragmatic and their break with Russia less radical.” They preserved many ties with it and were less inclined to integrate completely in their new places of residence.

            Those Russian Jewish emigres who support “’the Russian world’” are “among the least integrated” in Israel, the US and elsewhere.  “All of them are ‘aliens’ in their new motherland already because either they do not speak the state language of that country or do not want to use it and have the chance to communicate in Russian a large part of the time.”

            There are many different groups within this new wave, and there are many different reasons why some of the recent Russian Jewish groups support Putin or his policies.  “For example, some may not like Putin and Russia, but still more do not love Ukraine and Ukrainians because supposedly ‘they are all terrible anti-Semites and it was right to punish them by taking away Crimea.’”

            Alternatively, people in this group may be “deeply indifferent” to Ukraine, Crimea and the Donbas, but they are “supporters of an imagined V. Putin who in [their] opinion, ‘pacified Chechnya and showed how we should pacify Palestine. And many Russian Jews in Germany and Israel support Moscow because of its anti-Americanism.” In the US, in contrast, that puts such people off.

            Pain says that on the basis of his survey, he concludes that “Jewish adepts of the ideology of ‘the Russian world’ predominate among the Russian language population of Israel, but in the US, on the contrary, this contingent forms a clear minority.” As for Germany, there is no clear cut answer as of yet.

            Those who watch Russian-language are profoundly affected by that, Pain says; but he notes that “television all the same is not a GULAG, it cannot force an individual to subordinate himself to it or even look at it.”  And some Russian Jewish emigres are now looking at non-Moscow television, but in Germany alone, six million are viewing Moscow channels.

            The new wave of Russian Jewish emigres is not being conditioned by television alone, he argues. Instead, they reflect the operation of “an entire line of universal psychological mechanisms, including those described by Marcus Lee Hansen in his 1938 essay, “The Problem of the Third Generation Immigrant.”

            That American scholar showed that “migrants oriented toward integration in a new society rapidly are alienated from the land from which they come and demonstratively manifest their tie with the new milieu.” Those who aren’t interested in or who cannot integrate, in contrast, focus on their lies with the old country in order to feel more powerful.

            Hansen is remembered today primarily for his insistence that “the grandchildren [of immigrants] will remember what their fathers and grandfathers wanted to forget.”  That remains true, Pain says, but “only in those cases when the migrants live in closed ethnic communities like a ghetto.

            The situation of Russian Jewish emigres, in contrast, in large part because few of them live in such “ghettos,” display “the exactly opposite tendency – their cultural connection with Russia and partial Russian identity weakens with the change of generations and their ties with the new state strengthen.”

            In Israel, “the children of emigres from Russia having passed through school and the army inevitably begin to use Hebrew as their main language and rapidly integrate into the life of Israeli society, and the grandchildren of Russian emigres as a rule poorly speak Russian and do not take part in the translation of memes of Russian television.”

            “In the US,” Pain continues, “the overwhelming majority of Jews from Russia now live beyond the boundaries of such Russian-Jewish reservations as Brighton Beach and already therefore are well integrated into the American milieu. The grandchildren of Russian emigres are becoming full-fledged Yankees.”

            But in Germany, too little time has passed in order to be sure what directions things will take, Pain says; but he suggests that “both there and in the two other countries mentioned, the ties of Russian Jewish migrants with the political ideology of ‘the Russian world’ will be limited to the current generation and in the future will only weaken.”

            Consequently and with only rare exceptions, the current generation will not be an important “political resource of the current Russian powers that be” because they do not take much part in the political life of their countries of residence and “never try to lobby or defend the real interests of the Russian establishment in their countries.”

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