Saturday, November 30, 2019

Negative Stereotypes among Russians Based on Ethnicity Rather than Religion, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Ethnic Russians have a positive attitude toward Tatars and Bashkirs whom they view as being among “their own,” Emil Pain says, an indication that “in Russia, negative stereotypes still are formed  mainly along ethnic rather than religious lines and are directed not so much at those of different faiths but at those of different ethnicities.

            In a discussion of the relationship between social distance, negative imagery, and xenophobia, the Moscow specialist on ethnicity adds that polls over the last two decades have shown “a softening of ethnic negativism toward all the peoples of Russia” (

            The ethnic stereotypes people have about themselves and others are remarkably stable over time as opposed to political judgments as the result of changing circumstances, Pain continues.  And those stereotypes are stable at the interpersonal level even in the fact of massive propaganda efforts to change them.

            The Higher School of Economics professor says that it is a mistake to call all manifestations of ethnic negativism “xenophobia.”  Not all the reasons for negative views are irrational as xenophobic attitudes tend to be. Instead, in many cases, they reflect real experiences like social and economic competition or threats.

            Moreover, Pain insists, “by calling all negativism xenophobia, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to distinguish fresh and as a rule unstable stereotypes from historically deep prejudices, the rational basis for the appearance of which have already been forgotten but where the hatred they have given rise to remains.

            In the Russian Federation, the peak of ethnic negativism occurred in 2013. Mass social dissatisfaction in much stimulated by the comparatively broad support of protest actions in Moscow in 2012 found or helped to find another niche, negativism against practically all ethnic ‘alien’ groups.”

            But “after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the rise of negative attitudes was replaced by an unprecedented decline,” with negative ratings falling to the lowest level over at least the last 30 years.  “Experts even began to speak about the sunset of xenophobia in Russia,” Pain notes.

            He adds that in his view, this period will be a subject of research by historians, psychologists, sociologists and political scientist because up to ow it remains unclear which factors called forth such a short-term but strong decline in ethnic negativism.”  In 2018, this decline was reversed and this year it has returned to the level of 2010-1012.

            “After the annexation of Crimea, something inexplicable occurred in the mass consciousness of Russians: One must not say that a mass love for all ethnic groups descended on them but beyond question the sense of separateness relative to the majority of ethnic groups radically fell.”

            Since the 1990s, the specialist continues, “images of the Chechens and Roma were among the leaders in terms of negativism. In the first decade of this century, the image of the Chinese joined them. By 2015, stereotypes about the Chinese and Chechens fell from this ranking, replaced by images of the Americans and Ukrainians.”

            Indeed, the Americans and the Ukrainians were “the only groups in relation to which negative assessments rose in the post-Crimean period,” Pain points out. In both cases, however, these assessments were driven by political developments and did not affect Russians’ deeper and longer-standing views.

            And that contains an important lesson, Pain concludes. Russians (and others) may change their political assessment of other peoples in response to developments or propaganda; but they seldom change their assessment of members of other groups at the inter-personal level – or if they do, it is for a very short period of time and soon comes back to where it was before.

            In many cases, he adds, “political and inter-personal assessments do not correspond, and politics (including propaganda0 has little impact on preferences in day-to-day relationships.”

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