Friday, April 29, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Different Parts of Russia Will Modernize Differently, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 29 – Russia’s regions and republics are so different in terms of their current social and political development that their modernization is certain to be different as well, possibly in ways that will mean that the development of some will interfere with the development of others, according to a leading Russian specialist on ethnicity.

At a roundtable in the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Emil Pain argues that if Russia does modernize, there will be “different modernizations for different parts of [Russia],” a point he makes by comparing the situation between Chechnya and the ethnic Russian regions of the country (

Chechen society, Pain says, retains many elements of both blood feud and communal organization. Thus, wearing knives is not just “a ritual” matter. Rather they “fulfill a real function in life,” potentially saving the life of the wearer or his family in cases of “force majeure.”

Russian society, in contrast, he suggests, long ago saw such “traditional-patriarchal institutions” disappear or be destroyed. As a result, “Russian society is the most de-traditionalized and the most split.” That opens the way for progress but only if traditional institutions are replaced by modern ones. Otherwise, degradation sets in.

Unfortunately, “in all post-communist countries” and “in Russia least of all,” the appearance of the kind of informal organizations on which modernity depends “is several times lower than on average in Europe,” an apparent reaction to the enforced collectivism of the past from which people are fleeing.

It is often held, Pain says, that “a low level of traditionalism in society is compensated by a high willingness to pursue innovations.” But for that to be true, there have to be people who want such innovations and who can work together to pursue them. In Russia, however, there are few such people.

Instead, “Russian initiative is anarchic and often immoral,” Pain continues, a pattern that is reflected by the fact that while the number of people going to church has increased over the past 20 years, the number of those who “in fact observe the commandments, respect the laws of God and so on has not changed” over that period.

And it is also reflected in polls that show that “in Russia, there is the lowest level of horizontal trust among 27 countries” in which that has been sampled. “This is practically a catastrophe,” Pain says. Without trust, people will not work together for the future, and pursuing any long-term goals is “utopian.”

In Chechnya, on the other hand, “modernization has the classical problems” with traditional norms “blocking the formation of new ones.” But “both varieties of society, both patriarchal and de-traditionalized create their own obstacles for modernization,” albeit different ones and thus modernization will be of a plural nature.

That in itself creates problems, Pain the ethno-sociologist says, because there is a very great probability that these various modernizations will interfere and contradict one another,” possibly putting all of them and the country itself at risk.

In other comments, Pain notes that “the mythology about the great power nature of the Russian people is very widely disseminated.” But he notes, “there also exists another form of this, imitation. Supreme power imitates democracy. Regioonal power imitates that it takes orders from the center but in fact does what it wants.”

“The population imitates love for the powers, but in fact it seeks to avoid being controlled by any power.” This leads to “complete alienation,” Pain says, and that means that “the problem of national consolidation is the central problem for all, not only for modernization but [indeed] for survival.”

“Certain parts of the Russian Federation, such as Chechnya,” Pain goes on to say, “have created a regime of the Saudi type,” and have for a long time not been part of the common Russian legal space. But they follow this imitation principle, according to the principle “’We did not voluntarily become part of Russia and voluntarily we will not leave it.”

What that means, Pain concluded, is that “there is a problem of the country and there is the problem of community. The community has already fallen apart. The country is still holding on.”

Other speakers at the roundtable expressed similar if even more dire concerns. Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center said that “one of the main problems of Russia is that its central institutions of power … have remained practically unchanged” from the distant past and that the main issue for Russia is overcoming the “deficit of legitimacy” of the powers that be.

But instead, the powers announce “plans and projects for the future which … they will never realize. The modern is something which has nothing in common with the present, and there is no real modernization here.” If Medvedev wanted “changes,” Gudkov said, “he would begin modernization with the independence of the courts, the separation of powers,” and so on.

As far as the Caucasus is concerned, the pollster continued, it “de facto has its own courts, its own legal system, and its own system of social relations.’ And while 90 percent of Russians won’t yield the Kuriles to Japan, “60 percent [of Russians are ready to separate [the North Caucasus] from the Russian Federation one way or another.”

And finally a third speaker, economist Sergey Magaril gave an even bleaker picture of the future. Russia, he said, is like the Titanic moving toward the iceberg, a situation in which he suggested he was not certain “we have the time to maneuver” to avoid a complete and total disaster.

For Russians he said, modernization is simply “an effort to escape from stagnation.” But there are “few chances” for that. “In front of our eyes, in Russia is being reproduced the same police state on an illegal basis as it was in the USSR and before that in tsarist Russia,” a kind of regime “incapable of guaranteeing national development and inevitably leading to oblivion.”

Indeed, Magaril said, “this is only a question of time.” But Russia is not using what time it has. Instead, the economist concluded, it is reproducing “the Gogolian type of Akaky Akakiyevich … a social isolate who can give rise only to an atomized society. Are there any mechanisms for the modernization of such consciousness?”

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