Friday, May 8, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Inter-Ethnic Marriages Increase in Moscow, Fall in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 8 – The percentage of marriages between people of different nationalities has risen in Moscow since the end of Soviet times, but the share of such marriages has fallen in the North Caucasus, a pattern that appears to be extinguishing “the fire under ‘the melting pot’” many expected to produce a single integrated people.
When the Soviet government began to talk about the creation of a “new Soviet people” in the 1970s, Aleksandr Vladimirov writes in today’s “Vestnik Kavkaza,” government ideologists and academic experts viewed inter-ethnic marriages as both a contributing factor to and an indication of progress toward that goal (
In Soviet times, the Rostov-na-Donu expert notes, Russian women in Moscow and other major cities “most often married Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, Armenians and Tatars,” but now as a result of migration, such women are marrying “Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Daghestanis, Chechens and Ingush.”
If the percentage of inter-ethnic marriages in the Russian capital has increased from 22 to 25 percent over the last decade or so, Vladimirov observes, the share of such marriages in Russian regions adjoining the North Caucasus is falling every year and in non-Russian regions there has declined almost to zero.
This difference in the pattern of inter-ethnic marriages between Moscow and the Russian south, he continues, leads him to have “mixed feelings,” not only because Muscovite women are increasingly marrying men culturally dissimilar from themselves but also because the situation in the south points to a hardening of distinct identities among Russians and non-Russians there.
Until 1992, Vladimirov says, ethnically mixed marriages were relatively common in Rostov, with roughly two of them taking place each week between Russian women and Georgian, Azerbaijani, Chechen and other Caucasian men, but now there are far fewer, perhaps no more than 10 such marriages annually out of a total of 1200.
One group where the shift has been particularly noticeable has been among the Cossacks, traditionally a group in which mixed marriages were relatively common. Vladimir Voronin, the chief ideologist of the Don Cossacks, for example said that his community was always “a melting pot” for people of different nationalities.
But now the situation has dramatically changed. Cossacks are increasingly xenophobic in large measure, Vladimirov insists, because of clashes in the eastern portions of Rostov oblast between members of that community and non-Russians from Chechnya and Daghestan who have moved into the area because of troubles in their homelands.
The Meskhetian Turks, some 18,000 of whom have moved into Rostov oblast in recent years, present a particular problem, Vladimirov and the Cossacks say. The number of marriages between them and local Russians “can be counted on one’s fingers,” and many Cossacks fear that eventually that will lead to a Kosovo-type situation there.
Indeed, many people in Rostov point to the rise of “mini-enclaves” of non-Russians inside Rostov oblast who live apart in what are effectively “societies closed” to outsiders like the Russians, most of whom are now moving out of such districts into areas where there is a Russian plurality or majority. That too is pushing down the number of inter-ethnic marriages.
Over the same period, the number of inter-ethnic marriages in the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus has declined sharply. Such marriages have become “unpopular” and where they do take place they are among people of different Muslim nationalities rather than between representatives of these communities and ethnic Russians.
One reason that the decline in the number of inter-ethnic marriages in Rostov has attracted some attention is that there have been some much-publicized unions between ethnic Russian women and Muslim men from Turkey, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Morocco, even if there are almost none between Russian women and local Muslims.
Rostov Mufti Jafar Bikmayev points out that he often officiates at such marriages, which are indeed “inter-ethnic” but not in the way most Russians have traditionally defined them. But because many of the men in such marriages insist on their wives converting – even though Islam does not require that – these unions are likely to affect the ethnic balance as well.
According to Vladimir Alekseyev, a Rostov psychologist, “it is a difficult matter to decide whether inter-ethnic marriages are a good thing or not.” Such unions, he says, have both “positive and negative sides.” On the positive side, they lead to bilingualism, but on the negative, people in them sometimes fail to remember which nation they are members of.
At the conclusion of his article, Vladimirov provides a selection of comments on the Internet about such marriages. They provide a window on shifts in attitudes on these unions that may be even more important to the future evolution of ethnic identity than any of the other details the Rostov expert offers.
According to one, “only in marriages within one’s own nation is it possible to preserve its customs, religion and the like, After all, ‘between a bird in the sky and a fish in the sea, there cannot be a union.’” But while some other agreed with that view, one took a diametrically opposite position.
That individual posted a comment saying that “many peoples whose representatives now reject inter-ethnic marriages [forget that] at one time they arose thanks to the mixing of other peoples” through intermarriage,” a more open sentiment but one that it appears ever fewer people in the Russian Federation appear to share.

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