Saturday, October 27, 2018

Moscow Media Treat ‘Ethnic Russian’ and ‘Non-Ethnic Russian’ as Synonymous, New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Given debates over whether Moscow should promote “non-ethnic Russian” (rossiisky) as the chief identity of the population of the Russian Federation or stress the multi-national character of the population by talking about “ethnic Russians” (russkiye) and others, one might have expected Moscow media would carefully distinguish between the two. 

            In fact, based on the examination of 410 media texts during the first seven months of this year, sociologist Olga Solodovnikova of the Stol.kom Analytic Center says she found that the media treat the two terms as synonyms, a pattern that she told a roundtable this week that she did not expect (

            What that suggests, of course, is that the distinction which is so important to Russian nationalists and non-Russians as a whole is much less important for the powers that be, a finding which means that Moscow can move between them more easily than many had thought downgrading the ethnic component of identity of both Russians and non-Russians.

            Solodovnikova said she and her colleagues also found that the Moscow media today make almost no distinction between “Russian” even in the ethnic sense and “Soviet” which is definitely not an ethnic term. When the media use either, however, they almost always consider the identity in terms of its link to the state.

            She conceded that the investigation “had given rise to more questions than answers” because the terms involved are in motion and constantly gaining new connotations and losing old ones. Five of the experts taking part in the round table agreed with that assessment.

            Ethno-sociologist Emil Pain suggested that the study showed that the Russian population was now “pregnant” with a civic nation, but philosopher Grigory Yudin said he was not so sure.  There are no clear definitions and consequently no clear distinctions that allow for any such conclusion.

            Georgy Kochetkov, an Orthodox priest, said that in his view there is as yet no agreed upon collective term for the identities of the population. One may yet emerge, but it is far from clear just which one it will be and what that will mean for the various groups in the population or for the state.

            Olga Vendina, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, cautioned against making sharp distinctions, something she says that often happens when one talks about identity.  And journalist Mitya Aleshkovsky suggested that research on this issue would be strengthened by including Russian nationalist sites which have their own point of view on this.

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