Thursday, July 2, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russians in Russian Cities Increasingly Conscious of Their Ethnicity

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 2 – Non-Russians coming to major Russian cities not only are not assimilating to the Russian nation as many had in the past and as many Russians even now expect but rather are becoming increasingly attached to their own national identities, in some cases to the point of overcoming Soviet-sponsored divisions within them.
Last week, for example, a round table on “The Preservation of Cultural Values of the Ingush in the Conditions of the Megalopolis” jointly sponsored by the Ingush Representation in the Russian capital and the Ingush National Cultural Autonomy there focused attention on this trend (
In his opening address, Visan-Girey Gagiyev, the permanent representative of the Ingush Republic to the Russian President, said that public reaction to the assassination attempt against President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov demonstrated that the Ingush are becoming ever more united as a distinctive people.
One of his assistants, Mar’yam Yandiyeva, added that today “the Ingush abroad” -- using a term that Russians typically do to refer to members of the Russian-speaking community living outside of the Russian Federation – “is a colossal, socio-cultural and political experiment” which must be developed.
Other speakers developed this idea. Abukhar Tankiyev, a professor of philosophy at Ingush State University, spoke about “the unique wealth which had been built up by our ancestors [and which has] been bequeathed to us.” Ingush ethics (“ezdel”), he said, had parallels with Chinese and ancient Greek philosophy and must be developed in order to be preserved.
Magomed Bekbuzarov, the deputy executive director of the Ingush National-Cultural Autonomy of Moscow, after pointing to the need for “inter-ethnic dialogue” to prevent conflicts, talked about the work of his group, including providing language courses to Ingush in the Russian capital and working on plans to establish an Ingush “Sunday school” to preserve culture.
A. Gaytukiyev, speaking on behalf of the older generation of Ingush in Moscow but not further identified in the report, called on young Ingush to “feel responsible” for displaying the best qualities of their nation in dealing with members of other groups “despite the difficulties” that sometimes entails.
And Akhmed Azimov, the head of the Ingush national-cultural autonomy in the Russian capital, seconded that notion. While calling for openness to other cultures, he said that “it is very important that the process of the preservation of cultural values under conditions of the megalopolis go in parallel with the process of our more active socialization.”
Other speakers, including Vladilen Bokov, the chief of the Nationality Policy Administration of the Moscow City Committee of Inter-regional Ties and Nationality Policy, said that the city’s efforts at the integration of ethnic groups helps people “preserve their own I” even as it “broadens” the dimensions of that identity.
And several speakers pointed to something that may prove even more important in the future: They suggested that some of the developments in the Ingush national community in Moscow could help strengthen and promote the development of the Ingush nation back in Ingushetia itself.
That idea, one that recalls the way in which the modern use of “nation” emerged in Medieval Paris to designate different vernacular language communities at the university there, has been developed ever further by the increasingly united Circassian communities in both Moscow and St. Petersburg (
In a report on this, Yana Podova notes that “the most important goals standing before the Circassians living beyond the borders of [their] small motherland are the broadening and deepening of ties within their community, the rallying together of young people, and its direction along the correct path in life.”
Being “a small people of Russia,” she continues, “they understand better than anyone else what such terms as ‘fraternal spirit’ and the strong friendship of people from home mean and that these things are especially important for those who as a result of circumstances find themselves in different corners of our enormous Motherland.”
The size and variety of this diaspora, Podova continues, “with each year is increasing as a result of young emigrants from the three fraternal republics, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia,” into which the Soviet government divided the broader Circassian community (which includes the Adygs, the Kabards, and the Cherkess, among others) in the past.
And this broader reintegration, she suggests, is not limited to the Circassian community of these republics. A Circassian from Syria, B. Vorokov, recently visited the Circassians of Moscow and was, she reports, “happily surprised” by their situation and by the ways in which young Circassians were becoming more aware of their national identity.
Vorokov, Podova says, “promised to report to the [Circassian] diaspora abroad about how, living even in such an enormous city as Moscow and being distant from their small Motherland, the Circassians were freely developing their culture and language and have every right to express their unique qualities.”

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