Staunton, August 9 – Although residents of Russia’s North Caucasus Federal District make up only about 6.5 percent of the population of the country as a whole, young people there form 10 percent of Russia’s youth, a demographic reality that makes them an ideological battleground over the future of the country as a whole.
At a conference in Karachayevo-Cherkessia last week, Vladimir Zorin, former nationalities minister and currently deputy director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, cited this figure in order to stress just how important the ideological contest in the North Caucasus has become (kavpolit.com/articles/kavkaz_revoljutsija_umov_ili_deneg-8189/).
He called for a “more intensive” ideological and propagandistic campaign in the region lest outsiders from the Middle East and the West win the hearts and minds of young people in the North Caucasus and thereby contribute to the destabilization of Russia as a whole.
In the course of his remarks, Zorin said that his institution had recently conducted a sociological study in order “to determine the basic values which could be unifying for all Russians.” In the first group, where more than 50 percent agreed, were values like patriotism, social justice, and equality.
In the second group, he continued, in which between 40 and 50 percent agreed, were human rights, national pride, spirituality, security, and democracy. And in the third group, about which fewer than 40 percent agreed, were the ideas of socialism, great power status, social self-administration, internationalism and friendship of the peoples.
Zorin argued that “the main resource” for “inter-ethnic integration should be “the popularization of a common culture,” especially language. He noted that in the 2010 census, 99.4 percent of the residents of the Russian Federation said they knew Russian. No other multi-national state in the world has “such a level of linguistic integration.”
In addition, he noted that 42 percent of Tatars, 36 percent of the Osetins, and 19 percent of the Chechens called Russian their “native language.” But if the non-Russians have learned Russian, the Russians have not learned the languages of the others: only five percent of Russians overall and only 20 percent of them in Chechnya say they know the languages of neighboring peoples.
Three other speakers at the meeting amplified on these points. Yana Amelina, a senior researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), supported Zorin’s call but said that unfortunately “today we do not have any all-Russian order of the day” around which people can unite.
Valentin Bianki, a psychologist at St. Petersburg State University, said that his survey of the VKontakte social network showed major divisions between North Caucasian users and those from elsewhere in the Russian Federation. The former are 2.5 times more likely to identify ethnically than the latter and four times more likely to identify in terms of religion.
But “at the same time,” North Caucasians are 2.5 times less likely to identify in terms of the state and are similarly divided from the rest of the country regarding “the level of active approval” of the regime in terms as measured by their “likes” and “reposts” of news items concerning current policies.
And Iosif Diskin, co-chair of the Council of National Strategy and a member of the Social Chamber, suggested that these findings reflect the fact that Russia is now in “a zone of instability” because the growth of GDP and consumption has outstripped “the tempos of ‘the maturation’ of civic and political institutions.”
Many countries have found themselves in this situation, he continued. Some manage to speed up the introduction of these institutions and thus win the support of the population, while others do not and fall ever further behind, falling into “the chaos of times of troubles and crises.” The situation in the North Caucasus highlights the extent of this challenge to Moscow now.