Sunday, July 2, 2017

‘Russians May Assimilate Many Ethnic Groups, But Peoples Don’t Disappear,’ Khakimov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – “The ideology of the supremacy of one nation over another leads to fascism,” Rafael Khakimov says, “but calls for the fusion of nations in a communist or capitalist paradise are just as pernicious for the peoples in favor of a single ephemeral nation” and must be opposed.

            Unfortunately, the distinguished Tatar historian and former advisor to that republic’s president says, dominant nations often insist that “we are all people and there is no reason to stress nationality” and so any “ethnic minority” is compelled to “stress the opposite” in order to survive (

                But tragically, in Russia today, “one can speak as much and as long as one likes about the greatness of the ethnic Russian people, but God forbid you praise the Tatars because you will immediately be accused of separatism.”  But equally dangerous to the minorities are not those who sing praises to the Russian nation but those who are promoting a civic Russian nation.

            The leader of that latter camp is Valery Tishkov, former Russian nationalities minister and former head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Tishkov says. “For Tishkov, a nation is a semantic-metaphorical category,” something that can be “constructed with the help of administrative power.”

            “It isn’t clear,” however, Khakimov continues, “how this will be combined with already existing nations be they Chechens or Tatars, and even ethnic Russians are not hurrying to become [civic] Russians” of the kind Tishkov wants to promote. In short, he sees peoples and nations as “the result of the work of politicians.”

            “But history speaks about the reverse,” the Tatar historian says. “The state is one of the forms of the life of peoples.”

            “Americans tried to create a new people out of migrants” via the melting pot. And it is certainly the case, Khakimov says, that they achieved a great deal. “Nevertheless, in the US there has been a countervailing reaction in which people suddenly began to seek their roots, it would seem on an empty place, in the third or fourth generation of real Americans.”

            “There have appeared Hispanic American, Italo-English and so on schools. The Irish mark St. Patrick’s Day. The Scots in the US mark their holidays accompanied by parades in the streets of New York. The Italians everywhere open restaurants of ‘Little Italy,’ and the Chinese occupy whole districts as China towns.”

            And what is most important is that Americans “clearly distinguish who is Irish, Italian or Polish by origin.” And so now people talk not about a melting pot but about “a salad” or “a mosaic of cultures,” in which “each culture preserves its own distinctive charaacteristics alongside a combined American culture.”

            That experience should be instructive for Russia, and people should recognize that “ethnic Russians have been able to assimilate many ethnic groups, but peoples nonetheless have not disappeared.” 

            Tsarist prime minister Stolypin “understood the uselessness of immediate assimilation and Christianization of Muslims and chose instead the path of dividing the Tatars into separate peoples which turned out to be a more effective policy although it did not solve the main task of transforming the peoples of the country into ethnic Russians.”

            Pan-Slavism did not work in this regard either. Neither Ukrainians nor Belarusians wanted to play. And “experiments with ‘soviet’ and ‘Yugoslav’ peoples also did not give the desired results” because “with the slightest democratization of the political system, they fell apart into independent and even hostile nations.”

            Present-day Russian politicians want to try “the mechanism of the melting pot,” but not the liberal version on offer in the US but a much harsher one that will eliminate minority nations altogether by forcing them to re-identify. But these “assimilators” will achieve nothing. “They in the ‘best’ case will give birth to mankurts.”

            “Deprived of historical memory,” as Chingiz Aitmatov defined the mankurt, “the individual is transformed into one of Academician Pavlov’s dogs and lives by reflexes. Without an ethnic milieu, the socialization of a human being cannot occur. An individual recognizes the human in him only by looking at another person and having contact and general interests with him.  This is called ethnicity.”

            “Is it possible for an individual without ethnic markers to be considered human in the full sense of the worse, that is, as a personality? Of course, even a mankurt is not an animal, but you wouldn’t call him a human either.”

            When he landed on the island, Robinson Crusoe was “already socialized.” But “isolated from other people, a child will not become a personality,” as the story of Mowgli shows. And “the language of robots, machine language, has a syntax but again does not have a semantics.” That requires a culture, “and correspondingly an ethnicity.”

            “We are not mankurts or robots,” the Tatar historian says; and we must not allow anyone to reduce us to that status.

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