Monday, November 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘A Caucasus without Russians Means a Russia without the Caucasus,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 22 – Unless something is done to reverse the flight of ethnic Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus, a commentator in one Moscow newspaper says, that region will ultimately be lost to Russia because “a Caucasus without ethnic Russians can mean only one thing: a Russia without the Caucasus.”
In Friday’s “Segodnya,” Aleksey Sidorenko argues that Russian outmigration from the region reflects the coming together of the impact of Soviet policy on the region, the failure of Russian government policy there, and the intensifying crisis of Russian national identity (
The 1917 revolution and the ensuing civil war “almost led to the final destruction of Russian statehood and the loss of the Caucasus, he begins. These events led to the disappearance of many of “the socio-cultural achievements” of earlier decades, and that loss was exacerbated by “the grandiose social experiment” which the Soviet authorities conducted in the region.
On the one hand, that experiment led to the destruction of the region’s “traditional” religious faiths, both Russian Orthodoxy and Islam, and the elimination of the Cossacks as a social stratum. And on the other, it involved the modernization of the region’s economy and of the cultures of the peoples there, Sidorenko says.
“The main role in this process belonged to Russians and Slavic specialists,” and initially the local people welcomed their assistance. But the repressions and deportations of Stalin’s times opened the way for local nationalists to “link responsibilities for these tragedies with the Russians – even though the Russians had been the main victim in numerical terms.”
After the death of Stalin, “national-cultural policy in the USSR was directed at the formation of a meta-national community of the Soviet people,” a construct based “on a single ideology, the principle of the unification of the social-political structure of ethnoses,” even though Moscow continued to recognize the ethnic communities as “subjects of culture.”
By the end of Soviet times, “the south of Russia has been transformed into a highly developed socio-cultural region,” with numerous universities, Academy of Sciences institutes and branches, and a massive group of highly trained local experts, not to mention nearly universal literacy among the population at large.
However, that was not enough to prevent the current crisis, Sidorenko says. “The crisis of socialist ideology at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, which formed the worldview basis of the systemic integrity of the meta-national community of the Soviet people and its culture, led to the segmentation of the post-Soviet cultural space.”
In the last two decades three different cultures co-exist in the North Caucasus: a revived traditional North Caucasus culture, surviving Soviet culture, and “contemporary mass Western culture.” Not surprisingly, this disrupted the earlier balance and “led to a universal crisis not only of Soviet identity,” Sidorenko says, “but of ethnic Russian identity as well.”
And this crisis has been intensified by the actions of the electronic media which have worked to “discredit everything that was connected with the Russian Empire and the USSR,” actions that not only changed the attitudes of many indigenous people but “deepened the crisis of Russian self-consciousness” by creating “an image of Russian culture as secondary thing.”
This identity crisis opened the way for the restoration of an “eastern, Islamicized mentality” among the local population, weakened the role of traditional Islam and thereby allowed for the penetration of “non-traditional politicized trends in Islam such as Wahhabism,” something that further damaged the situation.
In the past, ethnic Russians not only by their presence but also by the self-confidence their leading role in the state and in the North Caucasus generated were able both to serve as a cementing element in the region and, equally important, help block the spread of these “non-traditional” forces. But now that is changing and changing fast.
The rapid and continuing decline of the ethnic Russian presence there, the result of excess deaths over birth and “forced outmigration connected with the de-modernization of the North Caucasus, threats to security, and psychological discomfort,” alongside the lack of a Moscow policy to support them, is contributing to a disaster.
And still worse, Sidorenko says, Moscow is taking steps that are reducing the Russian presence where it matters most still further. Prior to the division of the Southern Federal District into two parts, ethnic Russians and other Slavic groups formed 15.3 million of the 23.1 million residents, some 66 percent.
But now, in the North Caucasus Federation District, the ethnic Russians number only 2.7 million of the region’s 9.1 million people there, a 30.1 percent share or less than half the fraction they formed in the earlier and larger Southern Federal District and one that is almost certain to cause even more ethnic Russians to leave.

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