Friday, March 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Archaic Revivals Deepening Rather than Resolving Problems in Eurasia, Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 15 – Many nations in post-Soviet Eurasia, having been subjected to massive change over the last two decades, are reviving archaic forms of social organization, a defensive stance that in every case is deepening rather than resolving the problems these societies face, according to sociologists in these countries.

            This process, which scholars like A.S. Akhizer, R.P. Dzhabirov, M.K. Asanbekov, S. Kozhemyakin, E. Ivashchenko, and Ch.K. Lamazhaa have labeled “archaization,” is attracting ever more attention not only in the intellectual community but also among political and social elites concerned about the direction in which their societies are going.

            In an article posted on the portal this week, Azad Badranov, a graduate of the Institute of Law of Ufa’s Bashkir State University who is now studying at the Moscow State Technical University, discusses what this term means and how it helps both observers and these societies to understand what is taking place (

            The events of the last 20 years, Badranov says, represent “a civilizational break,” one characterize by “the lack of effective social institutions and general civic identity, the rebirth of ethno-cultural, family-tribal and religious relations, the impoverishment of the majority of the population and the naturalization of the economy.”

             These trends, in turn, have led to the splitting up of the populations of many countries and nations in this region “into a multitude of different social and ethnic groups,” something that by itself undermines social cohesion and makes progress toward democracy and freedom that much more difficult, according to Badranov.

            He cites the conclusion of Akhiezer that “’a society or personality can respond to a crisis situation and to danger either by developing innovative ideas which open new creative opportunities for more effective resolutions or, on the basis of a  return to old values which have justified themselves in the past.’”

            The latter typically occurs, Akhiezer says, during periods when new and more complicated problems emerge and when there is “a lack of an adequate answer to them.”  Faced with such developments, nations like individuals look into their pasts and use answers that were developed “in simpler conditions and act on the basis of social institutions and mechanisms” which provide comfort but not answers to current challenges.

            When that happens, Badranov argues, what is taking place can be described as “’archaization,’ one of the forms of regression when models of behavior directed toward the past are inadequate for the present.”

            This is not the same as “the rebirth of cultural or national traditions,” although the two are sometimes confused.  “Rebirth takes place in those cases when on the basis of cultural and national values the modernization of society takes place” by drawing on the past to work out new answers. Archaization involves a return to past practices in order to avoid facing the present.  When it occurs “the crisis only intensifies.”

            Archaization has occurred in many places in Eurasia, Badranov says, and he gives a variety of example.  Kyrgyzstan is one of the most obvious. In it, “processes of a religious renaissance and the rebirth of family and family-tribal relations” have overwhelmed everything else and as a result, “tribal and religious identity is more important than state identification.”

            Analogous trends have occurred in Tuva and the North Caucasus in the Russian Federation, the Bashkir student says. And he argues that such trends are more common “in societies which are weakly integrated in Russian society” and which involve “the least urbanized” populations.

             Developing a civil society and moving toward a legal state “is impossible under conditions of archaization.” Such “’a return to one’s roots’” provokes separatism and disintegration and often is accompanied by “the active involvement of non-traditional religions and religious trends,” especially among rural populations.

            The best way to overcome this tendency, Badranov argues, does not involve force but rather the incorporation of communities where archaization is taking place in a system of self-contained self-administration, a policy that forces those who have responded to change through regression to re-examine themselves and their decisions.

            Such an approach, of course, appears at first glance to be a concession to these archaic groups, and more modern parts of the society and polity are likely to reject it. But if the latter use force against archaization, they will only succeed in pushing archaized groups even further from modernity.


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