Friday, February 18, 2022

‘I Identify in Many Ways’ Malashenko Says, ‘But Above All Feel Myself to Be a Muscovite’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 27 – In an essay for the current special issue of Druzhba narodov about the nature of identity, Aleksey Malashenko observes that “I am a Russian, I am Orthodox, I am a European (down with Eurasianism), I am Soviet although I didn’t like Soviet power. But above all I feel myself to be a Muscovite.”

            The IMEMO Orientalist and specialist on Islam continues by observing that “Muscovite identity annoys a great many people. Muscovites are the richest, most successful and most bold [of the Russians] …  There are those who were bornin Moscow but more than half came from elsewhere with other identities” (

            “Ulyanov-Lenin was from Ulyanovsk. Joseph Stalin from the Georgian. Nikita Khrushchev from the Ukrainian. Boris Yeltsin from the Urals; and Vladimir Putin from the eternally opposed to Moscow Leningrad-Petersburg one,” Malashenko  says. All of these people, “each in his own way, affected Muscovite identity and even became a Muscovite.”

            But at the same time, all of them and others too “looked with suspicion on the native and indigenous residents of the capital.” Moreover, the capital has changed so frequently and profoundly that many who identified with one Moscow have found it difficult to identify with the Moscow that has replaced the source of their identity.

            Russian identity has been changed in analogous ways. Soviet identity which typically is viewed as being in opposition to the Russian in fact reinforced certain aspects of Russian identity while undermining others. It reinforced the idea that “we are a great people” even though we are always having to learn from others because we are far behind.

            And it strengthened the Russian belief in the sacredness of the powers that be, an unfortunate view that meant the powers could not be reformed, did not be responsible to the people, and was destructive rather than constructive. And left the Russians only with the opportunity to oppose it by revolts.

            Malashenko then poses the question as to whether he feels himself a non-ethnic Russian? He says that at best that identity is being formed; but that shortcoming is not a disaster given that in many countries national identity is constantly in the process of being formed and in some states national identity hasn’t formed at all.

            Rossiyanin doesn’t translate into foreign languages,” the Moscow scholar says. “In my passport, I am listed as a Russian, and in that capacity and with that identity, I travel abroad, considering myself a Russky” because border guards and other officials aren’t interested in the difference. “For them, Russian is Russian.”

            As far as being a Eurasian, Malashenko continues, people can choose to accept that archaic identity; but it doesn’t work for him. And as to the future, he says he suspects that it will feature new identities as well as reworked versions of the ones people, including Russians, already have.

            But one thing will certainly be true: people won’t be able to get along with just one single identity however much anyone wants to. And that means something else: the question of identity will remain unresolved forever.


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