Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Window on Eurasia: One Moscow Marriage in Five Now Ethnically or Religiously Mixed, Russian Expert Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 30 – The high-profile custody case between Kristina Orbakaite and Ruslan Baysarov has attracted attention to the growing number of marriages across ethnic and religious lines in Russia and to the problems that sometimes occur because of differences in cultural traditions and expectations.
An article in today’s “Argumenty i fakty” entitled “For a Union of ‘Cross’ and ‘Crescent’” says that in these inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages, “the main thing of course is love. And for its sake, one can make concessions. However, there exist thousands of ‘buts’” -- and they can become the source of problems in such unions (
The article describes both those inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages that have been successful and those that have not. Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrant Organization, said that one difficulty is that “many Tajik workers have two families, one in their motherland and another in Russia.”
He added that “many Russian women agree to this arrangement and even travel to the motherland of the husband as a guest in the other family. There, they immediately have it explained to them that it is necessary to wear skirts and more modest dress,” and of course, “not to spoke, not to swear and not to raise [their] voices at elders.”
Abuyezdid Apayev, the head of the Daymokhk Chechen-Ingush Society in Moscow, added that “by traditions of the Ingush and Chechens, a child in the first instance belongs to the family of the father and only then to that of the mother. After reaching the age of 12, he can be educated only by the father … who is responsible for his actions.”
“For men” in that community,” Apayev continued, “it is considered a matter of honor when a wife accepts the faith of the husband. Undoubtedly, feelings have importance, but a girl must understand that marriage also involves work and obligations. If she is marries as if she were going to the front, she will become a good wife and mother.”
Armen Petrosyan, an Armenian businessman, said that another problem Russian women face in such marriages is the large number of relatives. Having few cousins, Russians frequently find it difficult to cope in new families when “30 to 40 close relatives are the norm,” all of whom may expect to be helped when they get in difficulties.
The Moscow weekly observes that many Azerbaijani, Georgian and Ingush parents “do not approve” when their sons decide to marry Russian girls. “The older generation understands that the newlyweds may not know the traditions of the family, and this adds to the problem,” especially given the importance of national traditions.
Despite these difficulties, many inter-ethnic and inter-faith couples have successful marriages, the result of compromises – including both acceptance of different faiths and simply going through the motions as far as traditions are concerned -- or of recognition that one or the other partner would lose access to the children if the marriage itself were to be dissolved.
In one such successful family, for example, the ethnic Russian woman not only refused to give up her Orthodox faith but was alarmed when she was told that she was expected to wash the feet of her Muslim husband. He told her she didn’t need to do it if that made her uncomfortable but now, she told “Argumenty i fakty,” she is “prepared to wash his feet and drink this water.”
One of the biggest problems such marriages face as the case of Orbakaite and Baysarov has shown is the very different ways in which the courts treat any move to dissolve families. Igor Fedotov, a lawyer with the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that “theoretically everyone is equal before Russian law.” But in these cases, that isn’t how things work out.
The law, he said, “cannot always help in the case of divorces involving couples of different nationalities. If the case is heard in the Caucasus republics where the husband lives, then the courts there can be played. That is, decisions will be rendered in favor of the husband who by local customs from the outset occupies the dominant position relative to women.”
And “as concerns marriages with citizens of CIS countries,” Fedotov said, “then here everything depends on just where the divorce case is being held and where the children are living. If the suit has already been considered in one court, it is possible to attempt to review it in another, for example, by a court where the woman lives.”
But despite these cultural and legal problems, the number of such marriages in the Russian Federation is increasing rapidly. According to Olga Kurbatov, a senior researcher at the Moscow Institute of General Genetics, there are several reasons for this trend, all of which are understandable.
First of all, she noted, the relative number of men and women of working age is “clearly not in favor of the strong sex.” Moreover, “even of those men, almost half are not suited for the role of husband [because they are] alcoholics, drug users or prisoners.” That forces Russian girls to ask whom they should marry and how can they have children.
“If there are few of her own [ethnic group and religion around],” Kurbatov continued, then a Russian woman “will take up with others,” especially because she will have a husband and her children a father who is less likely to drink and is ready to work. The geneticist notes that non-Russian men are pleased to marry Russians in order to gain a resident permit.
Most such marriages, she said, occur in urban areas, and “the larger the city, the more such marriages,” making Moscow the chief location for the conclusion of such unions in Russia. In the Russian capital, 22 percent of all marriages now involve the linking together of people of different ethnicities and faiths.
“Of these,” she pointed out, “two-thirds involve a case when an ethnic Russian woman marries a representative of another nationality,” apparently from the cases “Argumenty i fakty” cited, increasingly from Muslim and Turkic communities from the Caucasus and the countries of Central Asia.

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