Staunton, April 1 – Leokadiya Drobizheva, Russia’s senior ethno-sociologist and a member of the Presidential council on ethnic relations, says that no law can make a nation civic or otherwise because “a nation is formed over the course of centuries” and “collective mentality and historical memory aren’t governed by legislation.”
In an interview with Vladimir Yemelyanenko of Rossiiskaya gazeta, Drobizheva says that she and her colleagues at the direction of the president were working on “a project about the strengthening of a civic nation and suddenly the theme of a law about the civic Russian nation surfaced” (rg.ru/2017/03/28/sociolog-o-tom-nuzhen-li-v-rossii-zakon-o-rossijskoj-nacii.html).
Russians feel themselves citizens of their country, but “don’t call this a nation,” she continues. “We have a historic term ‘nation’” that defines that in ethnic terms. Civic identity “is a recognition of oneself as a Rossiyanin, a member of a political community which includes people of various nationalities.”
Drobizheva points out that this sense of civic identity, just like a sense of ethnic identity, varies over time. In the 1990s, she recalls, the Moscow Institute of Sociology “conducted the first surveys on whether Russians felt themselves to be” members of a civic nation. At that time, in Moscow, only 25-27 percent of Muscovites answered “yes.”
Today, however, 75 to 80 percent of all residents of the Russian Federation answer that question positively. The very highest percentages, “more than 91 percent,” are found in Tomsk, Yekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk oblasts, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kaliningrad, and Astrakhan. The lowest – 63-67 percent – are reported in the Caucasus, the Far East and Kamchatka.”
Asked whether as many as a third of people in the latter group of federal subjects don’t feel themselves to be members of a civic Russian nation, Drobizheva says, that this misreads the situation: “Russian civic identity has regional and intra-corporate hierarchies,” and thus in some places other identities are predominant.
“In Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Sochi, and Siberia (Omsk and Novosibirsk),” she says, “urban or scientific cultural identity may predominate over all-Russian identities.” In some places a peasant identity or a religious identity may be more important for residents, but that doesn’t mean that a civic Russian identity isn’t there as well.
According to Drobizheva, “the task of the new law or action about the nation is to combine these hierarchies,” rather than to eliminate important parts of them.
In most countries, civic identities have emerged first in major cities; but in Russia, there has been a problem, at least from the point of view of the state. There, “the Russian center of European identity … is [also] a leader of opposition attitudes,” and that makes both the state and other ethnic and religious groups suspicious of it.
But the opposition attitudes in Moscow are not the problem, the sociologist argues. “We have said for a long time that the threat of social storms comes not from the creative opposition, not from the fall in oil prices and not from nationalists but from extra-judicial reprisals.” Data show that inter-ethnic and inter-religious levels of trust are quite high.
“Trust in the parliament and judicial system is low, but it does exist,” Drobizheva says. “We have a very high level of trust in the president. [And] inter-confessional and inter=ethnic trust is much higher than usually thought. [But] on the other hand, only 30 percent of citizens feel personal responsibility for the fate of the country and understand that it depends on them.”
In some places, like Sakha, the major cities of Siberia, and St. Petersburg, this sense of civic responsibility is higher. In those places, “people are not afraid to assume the burden of forming volunteer or their own mini-communities and organizations.” Such attitudes need to be encouraged and spread.
The reason for that is obvious: “it is impossible to form a civic nation only ‘from above.’ One must have a response ‘from below.’”
Russia is becoming “a nation of nations,” the sociologist says. “No one will take the title of nation from the people. But a nation has as well the function of uniting people of various nationalities and various cultural interests into [such a] nation of nations.”
Russians often look to the US or Western Europe for models of the formation of a civic nation, but Drobizheva suggests that the Russian experience if closed to that of Spain. “There there are the nations of Catalonians, Castillians, and Basques but all of them together are Spaniards.”
She points out further that “a sense of unity with people of one’s own nationality experience 80 percent of ethnic Russians and 83-87 percent of Russian residents of other nationalities.” Research also shows the great significance of religious identity, not only on its own but as a promoter of ethnic solidarity.
Russians should not be afraid of this but rather welcome it, Drobizheva concludes, because “the ethnic solidarity of all peoples is, as research shows, a resource for the future.”