Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Window on Eurasia: 21st Century to be ‘Century of the Majority,’ Tishkov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 1 – “If the 20th century was the century of minorities,” the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology says, “the 21st century will be the century of the majority in the sense of recognizing its interests, demands and rights,” a view likely to please Russian nationalists even as it frightens national minorities in that country.

In a comment posted on the “Russky zhurnal” portal, Valery Tishkov, often the object of attack by Russian nationalists, argues that this is the case because “either at the level of the state or at the level of particular regions within countries, minorities turn out to be in a situation of the ruling majority” (

“All contemporary states,” Tishkov points out, “have a complex ethnic, religious and racial composition,” and consequently, “all contemporary nations display a cultural complexity.” Of course, “that was the case earlier but it wasn’t recognized” because it was assumed that all members of such nations were the same.

“Only with the development of democracy and with the acquisition of a voice of the so-called silent groups of minorities” did it turn out, Tishkov said, that various “territorial, cultural and historical identities” existed within the nation. And this sense of variety was exacerbated by the arrival of immigrant groups.

The experience of various European countries shows that “a particular challenge became not eethnic migration but migration connected with a different religious culture.” Indeed, Tishkov says, “it was more difficult to adapt or integrate not so much people different by language, tradition, phenotype or skin color as by membership in a different religion.”

This religious “barrier,” the Russian ethnographer argues, “is much more different to overcome” because “people almost never shift from one religion to another, and Islam in general harshly punishes and does not accept the possibility of departure let alone a transfer to another religion.”

This difficulty, Tishkov argues, has generated a certain “panic” with many commentators even suggesting that “the policy of multiculturalism is to blame, that it was a mistake and so on,” a view that has contributed to “the activation of conservative, ultra-right forces and political parties.”

The countries where this has happened most clearly are “the countries of Euro-Atlantic civilization, inclusing Eastern Europe and the territory of the former USSR in certain parts of which democracy has existed already for a long time.” But it is particularly obvious where democracy is in the process of development.

As there become “greater possibilities to insist on their rights in the frameworks of various international conventions, declarations, and chargers about the rights of minorities or about the rights of citizens which belong to ethnic, racial or religious minorities,” members of these groups will not surprisingly make use of them.

This pattern of development, Tishkov says, is “connected not only with political democratization but also with economic development,” especially since economic development has attracted immigration flows. “Countries which do not accept migrants have not been characterized by particular success in their development.”

At the same time, of course, immigration brings with it certain “political, social or emotional-ideological risks,” all the more so because “it is rarely acknowledged by politicians that [most countries, including Russia] have benefited more from immigration than they have lost.”

Integrating immigrants is a challenge, Tishkov says. “The formula, e pluribus unum, is used in many countries,” and “many democracies are constructed on the formula of unity in multiplicity, but sometimes doubt is cast on this formula and in opposition to it appears the idea that it is necessary to make all the same even to the point of forming a mono-culture.”

“But this is unreal,” he continues, and suggests that “democracy must be build on the recognition of diversity, of the rights, demands and interests of people and citizens which are connected with their culture and with their ethnic or religion origin” even as “a common civic solidarity must be affirmed.”

In the case of the Russian Federation, Tishkov says, “one is speaking in this case about a [non-ethnic] Russia identity, about an all-Russian patriotism. Here the formula is not ‘ether-or’ (either you are an [ethnic] Russian or a [non-ethnic] Russian; or you are a Chechen or you are a [non-ethnic] Russian, but ‘both-and.’”

“And this must be reflected not only in administrative-government arrangements but also in questions of access to power,” Tishkov says. “It must not be the case that one group, the bears of one nationality declare themselves a state-forming ethnos or people and usurp in their favor all power.”

Officialdom must reflect “the composition of the population of the country,” albeit “there must not be quotas,” the ethnographer says. And he suggests that this century will be a century of majorities because “either at the level of the state or in particular regions,” minorities will be majorities and thus will be interested in defending majoritarian principles.

Moreover, Tishkov says, “minorities [at the present time] have international protection, they are able to organize themselves, to advance themselves and to make demands up to the level of international Strasbourg Courts” and thus it is no longer the case that majorities always “outvote” minorities.

If Tishkov is correct and the 21st century will be “the century of the majority,” that could present even more threats to existing states that “the century of minorities” did because many minorities will want to make sure that they are majorities and thus seek the formation of their own states rather than integration into existing ones.

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