Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Few North Caucasians Rely on Internet to Support Their Identities, Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – A new survey of sudents in the Kabardino-Balkarian capital of Nalchik on the nature, sources and support of their ethnic, civic, and religious identities found that only one in every 33 said the Internet was a major way for them to maintain ties to groups they identify with, despite their frequent use of the Internet for their studies.

            That finding, just one of many intriguing observations offered in a report posted online at the end of last week, suggests the need to revise some of the assumptions many observers currently about the role of the world wide web in defining how young people, let alone others, in the North Caucasus, view themselves (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21139).

            Under the direction of Islam Tekushev, members of the Prague-base Medium-Orient Information Agency interviewed during the second half of February 2013 235 students of various nationalities between the ages of 16 and 30 at the three higher educational institutions in Nalchik concerning the mix and hierarchy of identities they have.

            The researchers published their findings for the group as a whole, for Kabardinian women, for Kabardinian men, for Balkar men and for Balkar women, an arrangement that highlights both the similarities and differences among these various categories concerning identity.

            Asked which social group they most identified with, members of the sample as a whole pointed to their ethnic community (72 percent), their status as citizens of the Russian Federation (66 percent), and their membership in a particular religion (44 percent). Respondents were allowed to list up to three.

            Forty-six percent of the sample said that they chose to identify with a particular group because it provides them with a defense of their ethnic righs, “above all the development of national culture and language,” while 30 percent said that the group gave them personal security,, and 27 percent said it helped them achieve materialwell-being.

            At the same time, 24 percent of the respondets said that they chose the group because it could ensure the defense of their religious rights, and 11 percent specified that their group membership helped provide them with “defense against the arbitrariness of government organs, above all the police and the tax bodies.”

            Regarding the institutions to which they turn for support of their identities, 47 percent of the sample said they used their parents, somewhat fewer their friends, but only three percent mentioned the Internet, even though as students they use the world wide web almost on a daily basis.

             The differences among the Kabardinians and the Balkars on certain questions were enormous, even at a general level. Seventy-two percent of the Kabardinians but only seven percent of the Balkars said they had a positive or generally positive attitude toward members of other ethnic groups. Only four percent of each had a negative view of the other.

            Most of the report about this survey concerns the attitudes of four groups: Kabardinian women, Kabardinian men, Balkar women and Balkar men. Among the Kabardinian women, 34.2 percent identified with all three kinds of identity (ethnic, religious and civic) and only 5.7 percent identified solely with a religious one.

            Among the Kabardinian men, 27.5 percent of the men identified with all three identities, andonly five percent with religion alone.  Their preference for two or three identities, “one of which is religion,” gives them “a feeling of defense against the risks of being an object of discrimination or persecution.”

            Unlike their female counterparts, the male Kabardinians were more likely to include religion in their identity mix and more likely to say that the rights of the members of their community were being violated, with 70 percent of the sample agreeing with the assertion that these rights are at risk.

            At the same time, 62 percent of the male Kabardinians list civic identity as part of their identity mix, an indication of the “quite high influence of [non-ethnic] Russian civic identity on the representatives” of the young in KBR and on the belief among that group that civic identity can also help defend them against the challenges they face.

            The situation with regard to the Balkars, women and men, is somewhat different, the study found, perhaps a reflection of their minority status in the republic. (According to the 2010 census, the Balkars form 12.7 percent of the population while the Kabardinians form 57.2 percent and the Russians 22.5 percent.)

            Balkar women were somewhat more likely to declare a mixture of identities than Kabardinian ones. And they were somewhat less likely to declare a clearly defined religious identity. Indeed, the authors of the study found, Balkar women listed religion only alongside other identitites rather than separately.

            Balkar men also differed from their Kabardinian counterparts.  Far more (62.5 percent) said their identity included all three elements, civic, ethnic, and religious, with fewer identifying purely in religious or ethnic terms and with more not being willing or able to identify themselves in any of these terms at all. None preferred exclusively civic or exclusively religious identities.


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