Friday, March 13, 2015

Moscow’s Efforts to Fix Identities to Manipulate the Population Inevitably Backfire

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 13 – Open societies allow their members to define their own identities and to have more than one as well as to shift them almost at will; closed societies, in contrast, attempt to impose single fixed identities on their populations so that the regimes can use those identities to play one group against another and to manipulate all of them.


            But when a government attempts to impose a new identity or to redefine the contents of a pre-existing one, problems inevitably arise, with some of those the regime is seeking to define left confused and others seeing whatever definition the regime is trying to impose as an existential threat to their own well-being.


            Kseniya Kirillova, in a commentary on Novy Region-2 today, discusses this distinction between a free and an unfree society. In the former, she points out, people change and evolve and have so many identities that it is difficult to predict which identity will matter and how any given individual will behave (


            “This is one of the reasons,” she writes, “why the Russian authorities so fear freedom” and why they seek to impose a single identity whose contents they have defined rather than allowing individuals a choice in the matter.  As she says, Moscow has tried to drive everyone into “’a ghetto’” where he or she has only one identity and not a multiplicity of them.


            In contrast to the authorities in free societies, the Russian ones conceive each identity as “fatal,” and therefore they seek to define it with precision. Thus, in their understanding, “’a Russian is Orthodox’ and ‘a defender of human rights is an agent of the US, and enemy of Russia, not a patriot, “a liberast,” and an enemy of the Church.’”


            There are several problems with such insistence. On the one hand, every individual is more than one thing and therefore has more than one identity. Imposing a single identity as defined by the state inevitably creates tensions that can be kept in check only by the enormous use of force.


            And on the other hand, the Russian state keeps changing both the preferred identities and their specific content, thus posing challenges to groups who feel that their identities are threatened or who disagree with one or another part of the definition that the Russian authorities are insisting upon and leading both them and the supporters of changes to be more aggressive.


            The rewards of successfully imposing identities on people came to both the Soviet rulers in the past and Russian ones in the future, leaving the population easier to manipulate.  But at the same time, the dangers of doing so have been on display as well, leading to the demise of the USSR and now new tensions within Russian society.


            What those can look like is very much on public view today.  Speaking in Perm, Damir Mukhetdinov, the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Russia, denounced the Kremlin’s efforts to impose its notion of “a Russian world” and to insist on the acceptance of the way the regime defines it (


            The Muslim leader pointed out that the Russian constitution specifies that there cannot be a state ideology, but “in fact, in the ruling elite is being developed and worked out a proto-ideology, the basic formula of which is the restoration of the Russian world.”  Such a definition does not take the Muslim population into account.


            Indeed, he continued, “numerous problems in the country are not being resolved precisely because at the level of strategic thought there is the idea that “there is no Islam in the future of Russia.”  But Islam is very much part of Russia’s present and future and efforts to define it on the basis of thinkers from the past are dangerous.


            “The ‘Russian idea’ of Dostoyevsky, Ilin or Berdyaev, the Slavophilism of Danilevsky and Leontyev, and the Eurasianism of Savitsky and Trubetskoy are beautiful examples of historiosphic thoughts, but they were expressed for the past and not for the present day,” whatever the Kremlin ideologists think.


            In reporting Mukhetdinov’s comments, Ekho Mosvky noted that “the representatives of the powers that be have not commented on them.”  But they will soon have to – and not just about those of this Muslim leader but also about those of others, Russian and non-Russian, who do not see themselves a part of Putin’s “Russian world.”




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