Saturday, December 10, 2016

Macro-Regional Identities Not Being Formed in Russia, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

                Staunton, December 10 – Efforts, so far unsuccessful. to promote the idea of the Arctic as “a macro-region” are to a certain extent “a metaphor for more univeresal processes, including the unending search for a Russian ‘national idea,’” something that “gives rise to more questions than answers,” Udmurt sociologist Ludmila Saburova says.

            In a review of a new book (“The Russian Arctic in Search of an Integral Identity” in Russian (Moscow, 1016) that appears in the latest issue of “Neprikosnovenny zapas,” she concludes that “a macro-regional identity is hardly being formed” there or elsewhere (

            “For this,” she says, there are neither common historical and cultural roots, nor internal resources and demand.” Moreover, Saburova suggests, such “’icing on the cake’ doesn’t make the cake more tasty and attractive; it is capable only for a second to attract the attention” of those to whom it is being served.

            According to the Udmurt scholar, “it is difficult to overrate the importance of the general problem of the construction of a regional identity.” Indeed, “one can say with certainty” that Russia’s succees or failure “as a multi-national, polyconfessional, and extremely large territory” will depend upon precisely that.

            Saburova points out that among the obstacles to the formation of a common Russian Arctic identity are historical and geographic differnces in the region, varieties of ethnic and religious practice, the artificial nature of urbanization in the region, power relations between regions and republics and Moscow, and Moscow’s changing definition of the region.

            There are two ways such an identity might emerge, spontaneously from below or by direction from above.  If these work together, there is a good chance that a regional identity will develop; but if they are in conflict as now, there is every reason to believe that a macro-regional identity will not emerge.

            “From a historical point of view,” she says, the underlying contradiction which defines the paths of the establishment of a contemporary identity of ht Russian Arctic … was set in motion by the processes of ‘the  collapse’ of Soviet identiy under conditions of contant transformation of the space of Russian statehood accompanied by an intensification of ‘great power’ ideology and rhetoric.”

            Further, “the intensifying trend of ideological unification of Russian lands, operating on the rhetoric of ‘historical values’ but ignoring breaks in that history and the presence of ideologically mutually exclusive periods … inevitably … [gives rise to] interethnic and interconfessional tension” and “eclectic constructions” that combine what can’t be.

            These things are reflected, Saburova says, in Moscow’s constant redrawing of the borders within which it would like to promote macro-regional identities. Thus, the North Caucasus, the Far East, and the Russian North all have seen their borders change more or less constantly over the last 15 years, violating what traditional understandings there are in the population.
            That in turn has only heightened attention to “the various historical circumstance under which the regions were united to the Russian Empire and then included in the USSR, which to this day largely defines the character of the interrelationships of regions with the center and the level of cultural and economic integration with other regions of Russia.”

            Variations in economics and demography, as a result of which some titular nationalities are growing and others slowing and in which outsiders are coming in in increasing numbers, also have their effect, she says.  That has led to “a growth in national self-consciousness in certain regions and international support for the articulation of the interests of indigenous peoples.”

                Native language media could be “an effective instrument” for promoting identities but its outlets do not have either the state support or independent revenue to have much of an effect at present.  Thus, they won’t promote a macro-regional identity, and neither will religious organizations.

            What is more likely, Saburova continues, is that geopolitics and natural resources will play the key role; but so far, they are not having the expected effect given, among other things, the “unorganized” character of the appearance of urban centers supporting both Moscow goals and the marginal nature of Russia’s northern cities.

            As a result, she says, “the Russian Arctic today does not in practive have that very internal identity which arises via a natural historical path and which is characterized by a unity of values and emotional characteristics of the society living there. That means that if it is to be created, it must be done so artificially and from above.

            If that does not happen – and it is not happening now, Saburova stresses – “the Russian Arctic will remain a borderless region at the edge of an enormous state including a multitude of competing regions … an undeveloped system of communications, unattractive settlements and ‘small peoples’ surviving in isolation one from the other” and from Moscow.

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