Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestani Identities Being Transformed in Russian Cities, Ethno-Psychologist Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 4 – Daghestanis who move from their villages to Russian cities behave far differently than they did at home, the result of a complex interaction between the ways in which their traditional cultures are maintained and the ways the migrants seek to define themselves within a Russian milieu, according to a new ethno-psychological study.
Ruslan Lugovoy employed a cognitive-emotional test to examine 100 respondents living in Daghestan and 100 Daghestani migrants in Rostov, Tyumen oblast and Moscow, and on the basis of their contrasting answers, he sought to provide an explanation of the ways in which traditional values are reinforced or changed (
In Daghestan itself, he argues, councils of elders (aksakals) not only strictly enforce longstanding precepts and view any changes “skeptically” at least in part because “the older generation always is more reactionary and conservative.” But – and Lugovoy suggests this is the most important point – the elders transmit these values by a very specific kind of education.
Children and especially boys in Daghestani villages, Lugovoy continues, are seldom subject to external punishments thus ensuring they grow up to be strong and independent, an arrangement that has one set of consequences when they are directly supervised by the aksakals at home and quite another when they live in Russian cities beyond the range of the elders.
In Daghestan, young people behave lest they offend the standards of the elders, leading in many cases to a higher level of frustration and fear of failure than their co-ethnics experience when they live elsewhere and can act more freely without being concerned about how their actions will be viewed by the elders.
His data sets show that “respondents living in Daghestan experience feelings of guilt to a greater degree than those in a different ethnic milieu,” something he explains by the force of “public opinion” which is very different in the one where public opinion is Daghestani and in the other where public opinion is not.
In Russian situations, Lugovoy continues, Daghestani migrants thus behave in more unconstrained ways, sometimes seeking to construct an identity for themselves on the basis of their understanding of their own ethnic culture, sometimes on the basis of broader Caucasus norms and sometimes moving “along an assimilationist path.”
As they do so, their actions help to create a stereotype among many ethnic Russians of “persons of Caucasus nationality” that is often very much at odds with the reality of people in the Caucasus, including those who are members of the same ethnic community as the migrants Russians are watching.
But if tensions between the Daghestanis and the ethnic Russians increase, then another trend appears, Lugovoy says. Faced with hostility or attack, Daghestanis, like other groups in such situations, seek defense in “a strong ‘We’” rather than the much weaker “’I’” and sometimes reconstitute their own national values in radical ways.
And to the extent that happens, the Daghestani migrants may construct a far more archaic kind of ethnic identity than the one found in their home villages, one that includes values and ideas from the more distant past than the ones that even their own elders at home have been propagating.
To the extent that happens – and Lugovoy’s data suggest that it is – then Daghestani migrants could find themselves either cut off from both their home communities and the Russians around them or becoming a new generation of leaders at home whose ideas on ethnicity could be more old-fashioned than those held by the akakals with their Soviet-era experiences.

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