Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin insists that Russian is a single stream dominated by Russian culture. That is nonsensical and offensive to the non-Russians who live within the current borders of his country, but it is also obviously absurd even to ethnic Russians who look around where they live.
In many places, Russians who walk through the streets of the cities where they live can see just how many different ethnic, religious, and political developments came together, sometimes happily and sometimes not, and continue to shape the culture of the Russian Federation.
But few are more obviously diverse than Nakhodka, a 150,000-strong port city on the Pacific, which was founded by an imperial Russian naval vessel named “America,” has statues of Russian imperial and Soviet leaders, features a Greek Orthodox Church, and now has a Chechen mosque.
Such diversity is not unusual in many cities in many places, but what is intriguing, especially given Putin’s Russocentric views is that it is played up by city fathers and now by the Russian media (zen.yandex.ru/media/varandej/kitaiskii-kvartal-grecheskaia-cerkov-chechenskaia-mechet-nahodkinskie-nahodki-5f3577eeff8ddd23cadfb419).
Many residents may pass these monuments and buildings without giving it a thought, just as many residents in Western capitals do not think about the names of the streets they are moving along. But that is exactly the point in this case: Russians are far more broadly aware and acceptant of how diverse their country has been and remains.
And that diversity of history and diversity of current arrangements is a source of strength if only those in Moscow will allow it to be. Indeed, only when the Kremlin makes it an issue either with regard to non-Russians or to regional and historical variations among Russians does it risk becoming something else entirely.
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