Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Manezh-Like Clashes Will Continue Until Russians Become a National Minority, Moscow Social Scientists Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 21 – Violent clashes like the one that took place in the Moscow’s Manezh Square “will be repeated until ethnic Russians become a minority in Russia – and this will happen if nothing is changed,” according to a group of Moscow psychologists during a roundtable organized by the Novosti news agency.
As reported by the Novy region agency, the psychologists said that the events in Moscow on December 11th and 15th followed textbook models of mass behavior, with various people submerging themselves in the faceless and irresponsible crowd and others, organized into groups, pushing for a specific set of goals (www.nr2.ru/moskow/313962.html).
“A crowd,” according to Aleksandr Tkhostov, a psychologist at Moscow State University, “is in a certain sense a mask. People [who are in it] lose responsibility for what they do.” That is, they act the way all the others act, a form of “regression” that makes such social forms especially dangerous.
Having donned “the mass mask,” he continued, the individual as it were “disappears into the crowd. In this way, he is freed from the weight of responsibility. At this time, hidden desires and suppressed needs are expressed more freely. Most often these are destructive manifestations of dissatisfaction, hatred and aggression.”
Vladimir Sobkin, the director of the Moscow Institute of the Sociology of Education, concurred, adding that the events in Manezh Square reflected a group of people, “who had already had experience of being part of a mass: for many of them this was not the first time that they had been part of a crowd.”
Dmitry Orlov, the director general of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications, added that the crowd consisted both of organizers and of people who simply came from the streets, who “by accident saw the action and joined it” rather than being motivated in a particular way to take part.
But Orlov pointed to one peculiarity of this crowd. He said that he did not see anyone who stood at the head of the crowd and thus took responsibility for its direction. “And this is strange. No, there of course were organizers. But no one said: “I did this, and I take responsibility for it.”
And Akop Nazaretyan, a specialist at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, pointed out that “serious analysis is based on the presumption of spontaneity” and that consequently, one should not “search for a devil organizer” but rather see this as the coming together of people with different sets of often rapidly changing interests.
Unfortunately, he continued, many confuse a crowd such as the one that assembled in the Manezh Square with “an organized group” like the one that assembled at the Kiyevsky railroad station. And such a confusion undermines the ability not only to understand but to respond to and control the situation.
Sobkin called on his fellow scholars to focus on the why people decided to become part of the crowd. He suggested that they had been propelled into doing so by a sense of injustice, by a feeling that things were not going as they should and that they had no other recourse but to take to the streets to get attention.
Nazaretyan added that too many terms are being thrown about by people who do not know what they mean. “For me as a psychologist,” he said, terms like aggression and xenophobia “are concrete things. Without aggression, there is no life. Without nationalism, there is no nation. [And] without xenophobia, there is not integral culture.”
People need to focus on the “xeno,” the other, and ask why a particular group decides that someone else is “the other.” There are specific reasons, he suggested. “If Russians have only one child, and Caucasians for example have six or seven, then after a certain time. Russians will seize to be the main nation.” Not surprisingly, people are afraid of what that may mean.
Tkhostov stressed something else. He suggested that the chief lesson which people should be drawing from the December events is a recognition of “a systemic error,” of the growing “dissonance” between the powers and the people, the latter of whom feel injustice and the inability to extract a proper response from the powers that be.
“One can’t current a problem by treating a symptom,” he pointed out. “That which we see is a manifestation of a systemic illness of society and the lack of social agreement … And until that exists, there will be a war of all against all,” whatever anyone says or does on either side of this divide.
Sobkin for his part suggested that it is necessary to focus less on society as a whole than on those who took part in the mass demonstration. “These young people are a very complicagted generation. Their parents lived through a difficult period connected with the collapse of the country and the brining up of children.”
Many of them are from less than well off families, and all of them sense “the growing social differentiation” of Russian society, and feel that there are no chances for themselves. “This is a very serious issue. They sense and experience themselves as groups of the socially unsuccessful.” That they turn to violence is not surprising.
And Nazretyan concluded that in Russia for the foreseeable future, “ natural” and “normal” nationalism, xenophobia and aggression need to be understood and then redirected just like “it is necessary to direct atomic energy away from bombs and into electricity-generating stations,” not an easy task but one he implied that was not impossible either.

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