Thursday, November 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Could People of Mixed Nationality Determine the Fate of the Russian Federation?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 13 – As many as 40 million residents of the Russian Federation – almost 30 percent of the total -- are people of mixed ethnicity, either because they are the offspring of ethnically mixed families or have had life experiences which have left them not with a single ethnic identity but with a double one (“Zvezda Povolzhya,” 42(722), 13-19.XI.14, p. 1).


            Overwhelmingly in Russia today, such people are counted as ethnic Russians in the census – some because they have been pressured to do so and others because they have seen advantages in doing so. They thus boost the ethnic Russian share of the population from just under 50 percent to the nearly 80 percent Moscow claims.


            But under new conditions either because they are offended by the increasingly “Russian” content of Russian identity being pushed by the Kremlin or because they feel free to recover their roots, some if not many of these people may decide to shift to their second identity, thus cutting into the Russian plurality in the population.


            Exactly what they will do remains uncertain, but the possibilities for the re-emergence of these second identities are suggested is a new study being conducted by “Russky reporter” together with Russia’s Jewish National Foundation and the Federal Jewish National-Cultural Autonomy.


            The interviews sought to discover the ways in which people who identify with two or more nations cope in a country which expects them to declare one nationality or another but not both and what strategies such people are using to do so.  The first six interviews have been published today (


            The first interview presented was withSalambek Khadzhiyev, a Chechen who has functioned as a Russian in Moscow. He was the only Soviet minister of Chechen background, and at one point during the first Chechen war, he functioned has head of the provisional council of the Chechen Republic. Now he heads the Tochiyev Institute for Petro-Chemical Synthesis of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


            Khadzhiyev experienced all the horrors of the deporation of the Chechens under Stalin, but these did not make him anti-Russian, he says, because he saw Russians who had been deported as well.  In such situations, it is useless to try to blame another people. One must simply move on.


            He says that now when he goes home to Chechnya, the majority of those in power are his “former opponents,” but he tries to work out a modus vivendi with them as well because he identifies as a member of the Chechen nation.


            The second interview is with Lyudmila (Aynana) Ivanova, a retired school teacher who balances between being an Eskimo and being treated as a Russian. She says that in some cases, she thinks as one; and in other cases, she thinks as the other.  Her children and grandchildren have found it easier to define themselves in terms of what they are not.


            Most Russians call her Lyudmila, “as in the passport,” but “I am Aynana. That is my personal name. In Chukchi, it means “the cry of the reindeer.”  She said her sister has two names but that her children and grandchildren “live almost without personal names, exclusively with Russian ones.”


            When she has been asked to translate something from Russian into Eskimo, she has felt her identity especially strongly. In Soviet times, she was asked to translate the Communist Manifesto, but she had a hard time because the word for “spectre” in Eskimo is the same as the word for “devil.”


            Suggesting that she would have to translate “a spectre is haunting Europe” as “a devil is passing through Europe” was not what her superiors wanted to hear. Aynana says she knows her language is dying, but she still recalls and even sings the old national songs on her own.


            The third interview was with Anatoly Kim, a writer, dramatist and artist of mixed Korean and Russian parentage.  Known for his magical realism, Kim says that “each individual has two native countries, his mother and his father.” If it turns out, they are different, he or she need not choose but can have both.


            “For [him],” the writer says, “his father is Korea, Korea in the Korean language of the male half of the species. But it has so happened that [he has had] to live with his mother-Russia,” although he says that he very much retains his “Korean soul.” 


            The fourth and fifth interviews were with Kseniya Olkhova and Lidiya Turovskaya, two elderly Poles who survived the Warsaw Uprising and have been living in Russia since that time. They surrendered to the British at the end of World War II but returned to Poland to find their mother, something they were unsuccessful in doing. They then ended up in the USSR.


            In Stalin’s time, they had to keep their religion and their nationality secret, and they were registered not as Poles but with Russian names. After finishing school, one of them, Ludwick remained in Moscow while Cristina was sent to Baku where she established a music school. Both continue love Poland, they said, but “for us, Russia is a native state” as well. 


            And the sixth interview was with Rozalina Shageyeva, a Tatar who had two Russian husbands and who has been among other things a translator from Tatar to Russian and from Russian to Tatar.  She graduated from a Tatar school and then a Russian institute and says that “Russian culture is very dear to [her], but so too is the Tatar language.”


            Shageyeva says that when she was raised in Soviet times, she and her classmates were told “there is not national content; there is only national form!  But time has shown that there is also national content, and the ethnos is not some kind of superfluous essence. We live in a clash of civilizations: we are the most Western people of the Eastern ones.”




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