Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Census Should Have ‘Mixed Nationality’ Category, Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – Academician Valery Tishkov, the director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says that he has been pushing for the Russian census to include the category “mixed nationality” as the enumerations of many other countries do so that children of mixed marriages or those uncertain of their ethnicity do not have to choose one or the other.

                In an interview toNazAccent.ru on the sidelines of the Tenth Congress of Ethnographer and Anthropologists in Moscow, Tishkov said that there had been plans to bring the Russian Federation into line with world practice in the 2010 census but that this had been blocked by “bureaucratic delays” (nazaccent.ru/content/8335-akademik-o-mezhnacionalnyh-otnosheniyah-ne-cheshite.html).

            The ethnographer added that he “thinks that we will do this by the next census,” which will probably take place in 2020, and that this will ease the selection above all of children of mixed marriages who find it difficult to choose a single nationality” when their parents represent two different ones.”

                But as Tishkov makes clear, his concerns about mixed identities involve far more people.  “Of course,” he says, people are influenced by “were they are born, grow up and live and by the socialization which they passed through in their youth and adulthood. But for the majority what is primary is the milieu in which we live, the [civic] Russian based on the Russian language and on all-Russian culture.”

            “In a big city where so much is mixed together, strong regional or local identities may emerge,” the ethnographer continues. Sventy-three percent of the population of the Russian Federation now lives in cities. That means that ethnic problems more often emerge and “have a tendency” to become widespread.

But as Tishkov has often insisted in the past, this situation also means something else: it means that ethnicity is not “the primary” identity for many of these urban residents who instead define themselves in other ways. Consequently, “a categorical ‘either-or’ choice is incorrect” and must not be required.

Instead, he say, “the contemporary individual has a complicated identity: he can be both an [ethnic] Russian and a [civic] one at the same time.”

            Tishkov couches his argument on this point by saying that “one must not dramatize” the situation or “say that Russia is dying,” that it is “filling up with migrants, that “Wahhabism is spreading everywhere except Chukotka.”  Instead, Russia’s “multi-national quality is … a given,” and “the more calmly we look at things, the better.”

            The Russian academician is certainly correct in terms of international practice and the realities of Russian urban life, but his push for the mixed nationality category and even more his suggestion, accurate on its face, that an ethnic Russian can be a civic non-ethnic one at the same time is certain to provoke anger among Russian nationalist groups.

            As has been the case in the past, these groups view Tishkov who has long been a close advisor on ethnic issues to the Russian government as a Trojan horse interested in the destruction of ethnic Russian national identity. Consequently, his comments now about a mixed nationality category for the next census may make that less likely rather than more.

            But more immediately, Tishkov’s arguments seems likely to spark a new wave of demands among Russian nationalists that Moscow stop getting its advice on ethnic issues from him, demands that in the currently ethnically overheated environment in the Russian Federation the Kremlin may find hard to reject out of hand.

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