Friday, May 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Speakers Abroad ‘Not a Community, Not a Diaspora, and Not a Single Ethnos,’ Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – Vladimir Putin routinely asserts that Russian speakers abroad, a category which includes both those of ethnic Russian background and others who use Russian in their daily lives, are not only a single nation but one that requires the continuing protection of the Russian state.

            But a new study shows that the nature of this category is rather different, that in fact Russian speakers are “not a community, not a diaspora, and not a single ethnos” and that they do not feel a part of a Russian nation but do continue to feel “a connection” with Moscow and the Russian state.

            That focus, on the state rather than on the community, not only sets them apart from many of the peoples Russian speakers live among but also goes a long way to explain Moscow’s approach to them, an approach based on the provision of Russian-language Moscow media and especially Moscow television.

            Maksim Rudnyev, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, led a study of Russian speakers in Estonia, Israel, Latvia and Ukraine in order to determine the relationship among language use, Russian culture, and the cultures of the peoples among whom the Russian speakers live (

            He concluded that differences between the values of Russian speakers and those of the peoples they live among are at least “partially connected with the influence of the language factor” and that Russian speakers abroad are more similar to Russian-speaking residents of the Russian Federation than they are to the representatives of other cultural-linguistic groups who live with them in any particular country.”

            Rudney cites Estonia as the case where this divergence is greatest. Russian speakers there as far as values are concerned are “very similar” to Russian speakers in the Russian Federation and “extremely far in their values from their Estonian-speaking neighbors” in that Baltic country. The situation in Ukraine is similar but not quite as marked.

            “Compared with other cultural linguistic groups,” the Moscow sociologist continues, Russian speakers have not become self-organized diasporas.  Instead, “they more often identify with the Russian state than with the Russian people (ethnic or non-ethnic).” And that pattern “intensified especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

            At the same time, Rudnev continues, it is important to recognize that “Russian speakers living outside the borders of Russia are not a single ethnos” because there are many non-Russians among them. In Israel, “the overwhelming majority of Russian speakers are Jews, and in Ukraine, a significant part are ethnic Ukrainians. In Estonia and Latvia, [this group includes] Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews.”

            The distinctiveness of the Russian-speaking groups outside the Russian Federation “consists almost exclusively in their ‘Russian speakingness’ and what arises from this: in their greater (in comparison with the titular groups) involvement in the use of Russian-language media and other Russian-language cultural information and in their greater identification with Russia as the center of the Russian-language world.”

            A partial explanation for this, Rudnyev continues, is that they were socialized and spent part of their lives “in the conditions of the former USSR.”

            Rudnyev’s research was based on the assumption that “the Russian-language population of these various groups would be closer in values to the Russians speakers of Russia and other countries than to the titular population of ‘their’ country.”  And it used scores on ten values in order to rank these groups.

            “It turned out,” he writes, “that the titular population of each of the four countries considered was more different from Russians than the Russian speakers living in these countries.” In Estonia, Estonians were different from Russian Federation residents on nine of the ten measures, whereas the Russian speakers in Estonia were different from the latter on only one.

            In Israel, this relationship was nine to five, in Ukraine, also nine to five, and in Latvia, eight to seven. Clearly, “the Russian language definitely played an important role in the formation and strengthening of values,” something Rudnyev says “could be connected with recent history.”

            Despite the 23 years since the end of the USSR, the sociologist continues, Russian speakers living outside the Russian Federation “have not formed a strong identification with the titular peoples and states.” And the new Russian-speaking generation has “reproduced “Russian (Soviet) culture,” a culture based on the idea of Russians as “’the elder brother’” of the others.

                One result of this, he suggests, is that Russian speakers in this countries have not yet accepted the idea that they are “a minority.’” Instead, they continue to view themselves as part of something larger and to share the values of that larger entity.

            But there are differences in the values of Russian-speakers among these countries relative to the values of Russian speakers in the Russian Federation.  The Russian speakers of Estonia are closest to the Russians of the Russian Federation. The Russian speakers in Ukraine and Israel are somewhat less close. And the Russian speakers in Latvia are the most different.

            One reason for that pattern in Latvia, Rudnyev says, may be that “the majority of [Russian speakers] living in that republic speak Latvian as well as Russian.” Another is that those who speak Russian and those who speak Latvian in Latvia “live in one and the same locations: in Latvia, geographic separation into ‘national’ districts is much less noted than in Estonia or Ukraine.”

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