Friday, December 7, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russia is “No Melting Pot” of Peoples but Neither is the US, Moscow Patriarchate Ideologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 7 – Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a close associate of Patriarch Kirill who often speaks for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, says that Russia is not “a melting pot” and that efforts to make it into one ignore the fact that such a project is “utopian” even in a country like the United States.

            In an essay in the December issue of the Russian nationalist newspaper “Rus’ derzhavnaya,” Chaplin, who heads the Patriarchte’s department for relations between the Church and society, issues the Russian church’s most definitive statement so far on the Kremlin’s new nationality policy strategy document (

While suggesting that the document is on the whole “not bad” because it talks about “the system forming role of the [ethnic] Russian people” and “seriously addresses” problems like those of immigration and ethnic conflicts that have agitated Russia for the last “three to four years,” Chaplin suggests the new Kremlin statement suffers from some serious defects.

A close reading of the document, Chaplin says, provokes “a serious question: why are the compilers of this strategy document the very same people who were the creators of nationality policy in the 1990s, a policy which clearly led the country into a blind alley and which gave birth or at least did not take note” of problems that intensified over the last two decades?

The views of these very people, the churchman continues, reflect their commitment to “a certain ideological schema,” one that holds that “ethnicity is dying, national culture is receding into the past, religion also must not influence the life of society, and a new community of people will arise.”

This view “in fact” was “based on the American melting pot” model that the authors of this document clearly believe could be extended to the Russian Federation as well, Chaplin says. But they forgot that “this idea was utopian from the outset and in fact will always be condemned to failure.”

Indeed, Chaplin continues, it has failed in the United States as well. It has “not eliminated inter-ethnic and inter-religious problems; on the contrary, they are even intensifying. Thus,” the archpriest says, “the white Protestants who have been accustomed to feel themselves the master in the country hardly want to deal with the necessity of ceding their central role” in society.

And the churchman insists that “in fact there is not any such thing as a melting pot and there cannot be. People will continue to be different. “We can do nothing with the fact that there are more chess champions among Jews and more basketball players among those of African origin.”

Because that is the case, Chaplin suggests, “the real wisdom of nationality policy has always consisted and will always consist not in forcing this policy into the framework of this or that ideology but of understanding real life as it is and attempting on the basis of this understanding to construct an adequate path to the future.”

What does this mean for Russia? According to Chaplin, it means that the Russians and the other peoples of the Russian Federation are “hardly going to change nor is it necessary that they do so.” Instead, everyone must recognize “the existence different ways of life, acknowledge these as a given and a source of wealth and do what is necessary to ensure that they learn to respect one another, reasonably limit the spheres of influence of their culture and that of others, to respect various ideas about the family, about economics, about the religious community and about its place in life.”

According to Chaplin, “people in fact will be able to do this,” as ethnically-based student groups at Russian universities show.  Indeed, Russia has a centuries-long experience with promoting the joint life of “peoples of various peoples and religions,” a experience which the West should envy.

At present, the Patriarchate ideologue says, “the West is still making errors which we long ago passed through.  In these conditions it hardly has the right to teach us anything.” And the residents of Russia do not need to repeat history because someone will assure them that “after ten, twenty, fifty or 100 years we will establish here some sort of new and previously unseen community of people.” Instead, “we need to come to terms with the fact that we are varied.”

Russian officials and experts will instantly recognize Chaplin’s words as an attack on the ideas that Valery Tishkov, a former nationalities minister and current head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, has long promoted, and they will recognize that the Church has now decided to weigh into debates about them on the side of Russian nationalists.

But it is also possible that Chaplin’s defense of ethnic pluralism and diversity will be picked up by representatives of the country’s non-Russian nationalities and be cited by them as reasons to oppose the centralizing approach of President Vladimir Putin in nationality policy and other spheres.

If that happens, the debate on the future of Russian nationality policy that has been provoked by the new strategy document is likely to take some unexpected turns, with the Moscow Patriarchate being involved on both the side of the Russian nationalists and the advocates of the non-Russians as well.


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