Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The American Style of Identity Moscow Fears to Seek for Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Those in Moscow who want Russians and non-Russians within the borders of the Russian Federation to give up their ethnic identities in favor of a political identity as Rossiyane often suggest that they are doing no more than copying the kind of political identity the United States has promoted.

            But a Ukrainian portal has pointed out how wrong they are because Americans are and even are encouraged to be proud of their ethnic heritage and instead of shifting from their ethnic identities in becoming Americans combine the two and proudly declare that they are both ethnic and American (ukrmir.info/?p=8653).

            Unfortunately, ethnic Russians continue to be denied this opportunity because to speak of their ethnic origins is to highlight their diversity and the fact that the word “Russian” is an adjective rather than a noun that modifies but doesn’t replace the underlying ethnic communities it has been applied to.

            “In the US,” the portal says, “live more than 300 million people who speak 322 languages. Those who are citizens call themselves Americans but at the same time they clearly recall their roots, know about their origin and do not forget their ancestors.” They will tell you that they are “American Jews or Ethiopians or Irish or Poles or Chinese.”

            “Practically EVERY American knows his or her nationality and as rule is proud of it: there are numerous ethnic festivals and parades.” There are a few who “consider themselves simply Americans [but] as a rule, these are children of mixed marriages who are not particularly interested in their genealogy.”

            The writer continues that he has never met anyone in the US who was not proud of both his ethnic background and his citizenship.

            “Why then do the representatives of the more than 180 peoples of Russia limit their national membership to an ADJECTIVE?” Why don’t you say that you are a Russian Mordvin or Pomor or Tuvin or Karel? Is it that you don’t know WHO you are? Or are you ashamed to recognize your national attachment? Or do you simply NOT WANT to know this?”


            Five hundred years ago, there were now ethnic Russians, the portal continues.  “The name RUSSIANS appeared after the Moscow princes beginning with Ivan the Terrible decided to build an empire” by engaging in wars of conquest and then calling the conquered peoples “RUSSIANS” even if they were Bashkirs or Chuvash or Buryats or Chukchis or Eskimos.

            Some but far from all of these primordial peoples were able to retain their culture and even something of their identity, but the appearance of the name “RUSSIAN” which was thought up by Moscow tsars and forcibly applied to the population didn’t provide an adequate substitute for the content that was lost.

            As a result, many who call themselves Russians found themselves without a clear definition of what that meant, and the 1917 revolution only made things worse by promoting “a new synonym for Russian: the SOVIET MAN or SOVOK.” And many have not been able to escape from that because they don’t know what they could replace it with.

            Ukrainians who interact with Russians are compelled to ask: why do Russians continue to remain people who do not recall where they are from, who are satisfied with a national identity based on an adjective rather than a noun and one that was imposed from the top down not for their benefit but for the benefit of the imperial state?

            And that leads to others: “why are [Russians], who are in fact representatives of various peoples and tribes turning away from their nationality, betraying in this way their ancestors, their historical roots and their national uniqueness? Why are [they] continuing to remain one” with fw rights and many divisions? “Isn’t it time to change something?”

            To ask those questions, of course, explains why Moscow is trying to impose the new political identity without any real ethnic content because to do otherwise would bring the entire falsity of the Russian identity as currently constructed into focus not only for others but for the Russians themselves.

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