Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another Sub-Ethos Emerges within the Russian Nation – the People of Kuban

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 10 – Even as Vladimir Putin talks about and many accept the notion that the ethnic Russians are an increasingly consolidated nation, there is growing evidence that the Russian nation is anything but a single community and that subgroups within it constitute an increasingly important basis for the identity of their members.

            There has been much discussion of the Siberians, the people of Novgorod, and the differences between Muscovites and the rest of Russia and between Russians in the Russian Federation and Russians in the Baltic countries and elsewhere. But in recent months, other sub-ethnic communities within the Russian nation are beginning to attract attention.

            And because they are finding their voice in literary journals and elsewhere in the public sphere, there is every likelihood that they will play an ever more important role in the future of that country, contesting the hyper-centralist policies of Moscow and seeking greater autonomy or ultimately even independence from the center.

            The fact that all of them speak Russian, albeit with often significant regional variations, is not the limiting factor that many assume. Indeed, as has happened elsewhere, nations can speak the same language but insist on political independence as has happened in the English and Spanish speaking worlds in particular.

            On the APN.ru portal yesterday, Semyon Reznichenko discusses one of these often neglected sub-ethoses of the Russian nation and asks “who are Kubantsy, the people of Kuban?” and “how and why are they different than ethnic Russians elsewhere?” (apn.ru/publications/article33071.htm).

            As Reznichenko who has written frequently on the region points out, “the Slavic population of Kuban formed over a long period to a large extent on the basis of migration and very often on the basis of migration directly organized by the state,” including the establishment of Cossack settlements and then the arrival of Red Army men after de-Cossackification in the 1920s and 1930s.

            At the same time, he writes, “a very large number came and continue to come to the Kuban in search of a good and free life. In the Kuban, many people with Ukrainian ethnographic roots and speech have accepted Russian identity and after mixing with those from other Russian and Ukrainian regions have closely integrated” with all these groups.

            Kuban identity, he suggests, is both something between the past and future with its final form incomplete. It is stable in that regard now, and in this way “Kuban people are close to Ukrainians who,” he argues,” also have been in the intermediate and incomplete status for centuries.

            The difference is that the Ukrainians have preferred to go their own way while the Kubantsy have preferred “fusion with Russians.” But that fusion “is not complete,” and as a sub-ethnos, the Kuban people have numerous distinctive features which set them apart from other Russians.

             Some of this reflects the continuing role of Ukrainianness among the Kuban residents, but according to Reznichenko, efforts to promote the idea of a separate “Kuban” nation have failed because “no one is really” interested in promoting that.

            He suggests that the sub-ethnos of Kuban people is characterized by “a striving to independence and self-sufficiency,” albeit “under ‘the umbrella’ of the empire and by individualism, instrumentalism, conservativism and restraint. At the same time, he says, the people of Kuban see themselves as distinctive from both Cossacks and Ukrainians.

            “The people of Kuban understand their special nature within the framework of the Russian people, and thus apparently, a Kuban sub-ethnos exists,” one that is not just Cossack but includes others who have come to the region.  And he adds that “residents of other regions” see the Cossacks as distinctive as well.

            Among the vehicles for promoting such regional identities and giving them a more explicit shape are regional literary journals, and after falling victim to the turbulence of the 1990s, they are re-emerging in many predominantly ethnic Russian parts of the Russian Federation, both on paper and online.

            A useful survey of two of them, “Veshch” which is issued in Perm and “Grafit” which is issued in Toliatti, a survey which suggests they will provide a regional focus for many, is provided in the current issue of one of Russia’s oldest regional journals, “Volga” (magazines.russ.ru/volga/2015/2/14p.html).


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