21.11.2005
Russia as a European Nation and Its Eurasian Mission
№4 2005 October/December
Valery Tishkov

Valery Tishkov is Academician-Secretary in the History and Philology Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, and a Member of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations.


 

The annual
state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly is a political
document reflecting the views, concerns, and aspirations of Russian
President Vladimir Putin and his administration. This article
examines the president’s perception of the country and its people,
the objectives of nation building, and Russia’s place in the modern
world. It analyzes the doctrinal essence of some of Putin’s most
important statements, their evolution in time, and the modern
context. After all, statements by the head of state are not simply
target-setting guidelines. They are also directives that not only
reflect reality, but also create reality per se.

 

Russian
and foreign experts underestimated the linguistic and symbolic
aspects of socio-political life in the country, despite the
recognition and usage of these in practice.

 

THE
RECOGNITION OF THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE

 

Vladimir
Putin has made an important move toward asserting the concept of
“Russian people” in political language and in public awareness. The
term is used in the text of his state-of-the-nation address as a
historical category (“the Russian people has for centuries remained
silent”), as an analog of the Soviet people (“the breakup of the
Soviet Union became a real drama for the Russian people”), and as
the contemporary “people of Russia.” Prior to this address, one of
the president’s most definitive statements occurred during his
address on Russia Day, June 12, 2003: “Wherever we might have been
born or wherever we might have grown up, this is our Motherland.
All together, we are the single, undivided, and powerful Russian
people.”

 

Strange
enough, this basic concept has yet to catch on. Those who
understand the concept exclusively in the plural (‘the peoples of
Russia’) reject it, as do those who believe there are only one
people in the country, constituted by ethnic Russians (russkie).
The concept of the ‘Russian people’ (that is, the citizens of
Russia, or rossiyane) is a malicious invention, they believe,
designed to abolish nations or, on the contrary, to downgrade the
status and role of the Russian nation. Such views are popular not
only among ethno-nationalists of various descriptions, but also
among a substantial part of the academic and political community.
These individuals developed the belief that ‘peoples’ and ‘nations’
are ethnicities of different degrees of maturity, while persons
living in the same state, working at the same enterprise, and
residing in the same town – even members of a single family – with
different ethnic backgrounds cannot be a single people or members
of the same nation.

 

In the
Soviet era, political advocates and apologists of ‘mature
socialism,’ stretching the bounds of credibility, classified the
Soviet people (a phenomenon that existed in reality), as a ‘new
historical community of people’ since the terms ‘peoples’ and
‘nations’ applied to ethnic communities. This classification
produced a clumsy theoretical innovation regarding a purportedly
new type of community of people.

 

In fact,
there was no new historical typology in that community. The
representatives of large states always have a multiethnic makeup,
but this does not prevent them from acquiring the label of, for
example, Brazilian, Indian, Chinese, or
Spanish.

 

Soviet
social engineers were somewhat perplexed by the need to come up
with a descriptive name of the people from this new state – the
Soviet Union. This new name was critical because ‘Russia,’ as an
administrative/state designation, ceased to exist, while the
concept of the ‘Russian people’ dropped out of the language. At
some point, the officials decided in favor of ‘Soviet.’ In the
1970s and 1980s, this title struck such deep roots that the outside
world, especially amongst the more educated segment, came up with
the description ‘Soviets’ (along with ‘Russians’) with reference to
people hailing from the Soviet Union, and occasionally used
disparagingly – ‘Sovs.’

 

Later,
during the Gorbachev-era liberalization, ‘Sovietness,’ especially
its ideological component, became a subject of criticism and
denunciation. That gave the opponents of the Soviet Union, and
therefore of the Soviet people, cause to say that it was an
ideologically unviable construct.

 

Today, we
conveniently forget that the population of the Russian Empire was
called the Russian people; it was one of the basic concepts and on
par with the concept of the ‘czar’s subjects.’ Furthermore, the
concept of ‘government by the people,’ which had gained ground
since the 18th-century French Revolution, was not much in favor
with contemporary monarchical rulers, while the Jacobin
understanding of the nation as ‘co-citizenship’ was rejected so as
not to undermine the divine origin of ruling authority.

 

It should
be added here that before the Soviet era, rossiyane and russkie
were interchangeable since “Russian” applied not only to the Great
Russians (Velikorossy), the Minor Russians (Malorossy) and the
Belorussians, but also to all those who had adopted the Orthodoxy
or, according to liberal Russian economist and political scientist
Pyotr Struve, were “culturally involved.” This is borne out by,
among other things, the lately re-issued edition of Mikhail
Zabylin’s pre-revolution (pre-1917) book about the customs and
traditions of the Russian people. It includes a wealth of
information on Cheremiss, Tatar, and other cultural traditions
within the population of Russia.

 

The
concept of ‘Russians’ acquired a narrow ethnic meaning during the
period of ‘socialist nation-building’ when, beginning with the 1926
census, the term

‘Russian’
applied only to the Great Russians. Eventually, the designation
‘Great Russians’ fell out of use as a societal description and
subsequently as a form of ethnic identity. Yet, following the
introduction of internal passports in 1932, many Soviet citizens
insisted that their ethnicity indicate ‘Great Russian.’ Today,
young Russians are puzzled to see such an ethnicity description in
their grandparents’ passports that is no longer on the official
list of ethnic groups. Thus, a purely formal re-designation of
ethnicity caused a change in reality, while there were no
particular ‘ethnic transformations’ or ‘nation-building’ to support
it.

 

The change
of ethnic identity from Great Russian to Russian affected the
former Minor Russians and Belorussians. In the 1920s and 1930s,
many of the Russified Minor Russians converted into Russians as
opposed to Ukrainians on the basis that Russian was a more
prestigious and even secure ethnic group (especially during the
period of political reprisals). This is why, according to the 1937
and the 1939 censuses, the number of Ukrainians declined, while the
number of Russians grew by several million, even in Ukraine.
Incidentally, this fact is ignored in estimating the number of
famine victims in the early 1930s.

The
increase in the number of Ukrainians, together with the decline in
the number of Russians by almost 3 million between the 1989 and the
2001 census in independent Ukraine, shows that re-registration was
commonplace. “The birth rates have not dropped; there has been
neither an exodus of Russians nor a massive influx of Ukrainians.
Who has ‘eliminated’ the three million Russians then?” opponents to
the campaign for famine reparations to Ukraine may
ask.

 

Since the
once broad and non-ethnic category of Russians was divided into
three ethnicities – Russians (the former Great Russians),
Ukrainians (the former Minor Russians), and Belorussians, the
strictly ethnic interpretation of ‘Russian’ and things Russian is
still valid. It will hardly be possible to reintroduce the former
interpretations – that is to say, restore the category of ‘Great
Russians,’ let alone ‘Russians’ in the broad sense of the word. For
this to happen, Ukrainians would have to agree to become Minor
Russians and, together with Belorussians, recognize the double
(vertical and not mutually exclusive) form of ethnic identity –
Minor Russian and Russian at the same time, as Ukrainian-born
Russian writer Nikolai Gogol once identified himself.

This form
of identity is no longer possible for political, cultural,
emotional, and purely psychological reasons.

 

Members of
the Russian Cabinet – Alexei Kudrin, Victor Khristenko, German
Gref, Mikhail Fradkov, Sergei Shoigu, and others – are
representatives of one people regardless of the unfortunate
formality that the question of ethnicity has taken in Russia. These
are people with the same culture, yet different ethnic backgrounds.
A Russian Jew or a Russian Armenian, for example, are quite
respectable samples of multiple ethnic identity among Russians,
that is to say from among the Russian people (incidentally, quite
common in the pre-Soviet era). It is along these lines that the
notion of the ‘Russian people’ and a Russian national identity
asserted itself. In the view of some pundits, “it is time that
Russia be entrusted to Russians” (Alexander Tsipko); such writings
and appeals by ethno-nationalists represent the path of regress and
ruinous for the country.

 

AMBIVALENT
LANGUAGE –
MURKY
POLITICS

 

Political
and public figures in contemporary Russia already make a
distinction between rossiiskiy (related to Russia) and russkiy
(Russian), even though the former replaced sovietskiy (Soviet) – or
rather, it returned from the pre-Soviet era – as a form of national
identity a little more than 10 years ago. Nevertheless, it is still
difficult, for example, to describe Alexander Pushkin – long
heralded as a “great russkiy poet” – as a rossiiskiy poet. The
Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedia (Vol. 50, 1898 edition) describes
Pushkin as “the greatest Russian poet,” while Gogol is mentioned as
“the greatest writer in Russian literature” (Vol. 17, 1893
edition).

 

Russian
literature still has every reason to be called not only rossiiskiy,
but also russkiy. A wealthy Russian Jew established a prestigious
prize for literature, for example, the winners of which are
referred to as “Russian cultural figures” even though by their
ethnicity they are not only Russian, but also Jewish, Uzbek,
German, Ukrainian, and so forth. There is nothing contradictory
about this linguistic heterogeneity. The Russian language, which is
not the exclusive property of Russians per se, allows to describe
the authors who write in the Russian language and their works as
russkiy. Nonetheless, it is acceptable if the attribute rossiiskiy
characterizes all of these modern meanings, carrying the Soviet-era
connotation of exclusive ethnicity, including, e.g., articles on
Pushkin and Gogol in the upcoming edition of a new Russian
encyclopedia.

 

What is
clearly unacceptable, however, is another instance of linguistic
ambivalence with regard to the terms russkiy and rossiiskiy that
exists beyond Russia’s borders. To date, there is only one word and
its derivatives there: ‘Russia’ and ‘Russians.’

 

The
overwhelming majority of the outside world believes that
exclusively Russians populate Russia, while these people are waging
a war against a tiny nation, the Chechens, who are fighting for
their freedom. Meanwhile, the speaker of the Russian parliament who
declared the Dzhokhar Dudayev regime unlawful was a Chechen (Ruslan
Khazbulatov); a Jew (Lev Rokhlin) commanded the federal army that
destroyed Chechnya’s capital Grozny, while there were people of
different ethnic backgrounds among the Russian servicemen. The
world at large ignores these crucial facts in order to portray
Russians as ruthless colonizers. To the outside world, Russians
rule their country and oppress ethnic groups. Thus, the concept of
the ‘Russian people’ does not really exist for the outside world:
otherwise, the legitimacy and integrity of the state formed by this
people would have to be recognized.

 

What is
the solution to this situation? Russia must introduce into foreign
languages, through a more accurate transliteration, two words that
represent the two different notions that actually exist in the
Russian language. This requires that the letter ‘o’ replace the
letter ‘u’ in the word Russia. Then, foreigners will not
immediately connect Rossia – its citizens, economy, army, culture,
and so forth – to just one ethnic group, a community that will
preserve its current designation as ‘Russians.’ Thus, the outside
world will not perceive the Russian army, its generals and
servicemen who fought the Chechen separatists as “Russians fighting
against Chechens.” The present author in the mid-1990s made the
proposal to amend Foreign Ministry records accordingly (see:
Tishkov V. What Is Rossia? Prospects for Nation-Building. Security
Dialogue, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 1995). Only a handful of our
foreign colleagues, however, started using the country’s name in
the more accurate transcription (for example, Anthropology and
Archeology of Eurasia, a journal published by Russia specialist
Prof. Marjorie Balzer, adopted the term). Presumably, the change of
even one letter in a word that has worldwide significance requires
considerable efforts at the official level. In fact, a precedent
was set when, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the names
of some newly independent states were changed: e.g., Kyrgyzstan,
Moldova, and Belarus.

 

Why is it
so important to assert the notion ‘Russian people’ as synonymous
with ‘Russians’ and not as the refusal to recognize the existence
of other ethnic groups amongst the people of Russia? Because the
plural form (‘peoples’) weakens the legitimacy of the state,
necessarily formed by a territorial community, or demos, which, in
accordance with the rules of international law, is a
self-determined people.

 

The Soviet
Union’s People’s Deputy and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once proposed
an amendment to the draft text of the oath of allegiance to be
taken by the first president of the Soviet Union, namely that in
the phrase “I hereby swear to the people of the Soviet Union” the
single noun be replaced with the plural form. The poet may not
believe it, but this symptomatic amendment played a destructive,
even if not immediately obvious, role in the disintegration of a
once single country.

 

Many
people strongly believe that it is not politically correct to
designate the population of a country as a single people. Here is
just one example. As a member of the editorial board of the New
Russian Encyclopedia and one of its authors, I failed to get an
entry titled Rossiiskiy Narod (the People of Russia) included in
its volume devoted to Russia. Just as in previous editions, I had
to write an article entitled Peoples of Russia, not the Ethnic
Composition of the People of Russia, as I should
have.

 

Due to
outdated perceptions as to what actually constitutes a community
known as ‘people’ or ‘nation,’ there is a misrepresentation of the
country’s image: it has a territory, it has an economy, it has a
capital, and it has bureaucracy, but there is no people or nation
as such. Article 1 of the Constitution (adopted in 1993) recognizes
the existence of a “multi-ethnic people,” but a “multi-people
nation” would have been preferable. I reminded Sergei Shakhrai
about that proposal when the work on the draft Constitution was
still in progress, but stubborn stereotypes
prevailed.

 

In the new
Russia, just as in the Soviet Union, the fundamental categories
‘people’ and ‘nation,’ which are key to the legitimacy of the
State, are relegated with increasing frequency and imprudence to
the disposal of ethnic groups. Furthermore, these groups are rather
hypothetical, constituting not actual groups per se but, rather,
forms of collective identity that exist within the people of
Russia. They are constantly changing, have a complex, multi-tier
nature, and are of but secondary importance for each specific
individual, compared to other forms of identity. These are the
axioms of modern science, but not of the domestic social sciences
poisoned by the quasi-scientific theories of ethnic “passionarity”
and thinly veiled nationalistic views.

 

This is
why even loyal and patriotic politicians and scholars still
perceive the notion of ‘people of Russia,’ which is of fundamental
importance to the country, as an agenda for the future. “We are now
building a Russian civil nation,” Yevgeny Trofimov, chairman of the
State Duma Nationalities Committee, and other high-profile
politicians usually say. Meanwhile, the opponents of President
Putin and the Russian political establishment, not to mention the
diehard nationalists, maliciously write about the failure of the
Russian nation-building project. Actually, this is the same pattern
of thinking – positing that it is necessary to form a new body
comprised of diverse ethnicities – for a new nation to be
born.

 

However,
this is a serious mistake. No one will ever “reform” ethnic
Ossetians, Tatars, or Yakuts, for example, into Russians or vice
versa. These people are already rossiyane, the Russian nation,
while at the same time they are ethnically what they consider
themselves to be. Nation-building should be interpreted as a kind
of social engineering designed to unify the cultural identities of
the people of Russia. Most importantly, it is the practical work of
forwarding ideas that reflect and stimulate common features and
values, including civic nationalism or Russian patriotism, that are
vital for the State.

 

This
program does not require centuries, or even decades, as some people
believe. Thus, for example, the concept ‘British nation’ did not
replace ‘English nation’ until quite recently. This change did not
occur, however, for the Irish, Scots, or the descendants of the new
migrants to become English, but for all of the country’s residents
to feel themselves members of one nation. Englishness, which has
not disappeared into thin air, has taken a subordinate position to
Britishness, and everyone has benefited from
this.

 

Likewise,
following the collapse of the Franco regime, the concept of
‘Spanish nation’ struck root not as a designation of the dominant
Castile component, but as an inclusive category comprising
Catalonians, Basques, and other regional/cultural communities.
Overall, the word ‘nation’ is generally used today not in its
ethnic but civic, multicultural meaning. Even the most avid
proponents of the concept of ethno-nation, the Hungarians, have
surrendered their positions in favor of its dual usage – as
citizens of Hungary (a political or civic nation) and as ethnic
Hungarians (an ethno-nation or a cultural
nation).

Some
linguistically-nationalized minorities or majorities may worry by
the prospect that the formal introduction of the concept of civic
nation could cause them to lose their national status. These
concerns, however, are groundless since incorporation into a civic
nation is even more beneficial for minorities than for majorities.
Majorities do not stand to lose anything, nor do they gain
anything. The Castilians, for example, as the ethnic core of the
Spanish nation, realized that establishing their own ethno-nation
meant the destruction of Spain. The English tolerated the formula
‘British nation’ to weaken separatist nationalism on the part of
the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Han Chinese, in the name of the
country’s unity and stability, accept innovations, including a new
hieroglyph designating the nation (mingdu) as the entire Chinese
population where non-Han minorities number more than 100 million
people. To ethnic Russians, this form of nation-building or
national identity appears to be the only viable proposition. The
essence of nation-building, however, consists in its formal
recognition, which begins with a verbal act.

 

In this
context, it would be appropriate to recall President Vladimir
Putin’s statement at a conference in Cheboksary on February 5,
2004: “I suppose that today we have every reason to speak about the
people of Russia as a single nation: representatives of various
ethnic and religious groups in Russia perceive themselves as a
single people. They use all of their assets, their cultural
diversity in the interest of the entire society and the State. We
are obliged to preserve and strengthen our national historical
unity.”

 

Therefore,
the Russian (rossiisky) nation is undoubtedly a project that has
taken shape, formalized by the Russian Federation’s statehood, and
consummated in the historical-cultural and socio-political
commonality of the country’s population. Russia’s unity is ensured
not only by the task of preserving the State within the existing
territorial borders. As Vladimir Putin noted in his
state-of-the-nation address, the recognition of a common identity
and its acceptance into Russia’s socio-political consciousness –
based on Russia as a heterogeneous whole – is no less important
than the protection of State borders. States exist principally
because each new generation of citizens reproduces and shares a
common perception of their country, recognizing themselves as a
single people.

 

AN
INTERNAL AND GLOBAL MISSION

 

Vladimir
Putin has on many occasions referred to the historical community
known as the ‘Russian people’ or the ‘Russian nation,’ and every
time the expert and political community was either confused or
oblivious to the comment. The 2005 state-of-the-nation address not
just mentioned these two concepts, but even forwarded an apparently
provocative and non-PC proposition: “There is no doubt that the
civilizing mission of the Russian nation on the Eurasian continent
should be continued.”

 

I am not
in a position to judge about the whole continent, but with regard
to the former Soviet Union’s area, the proposition about a
civilizing mission (understood not as Messianism but as a general
cultural and Kulturtraeger role) appears correct although the words
‘civilization’ and ‘mission’ are not purely academic. This
interesting statement, at least in some way, stands up to the
stereotype about the fallen “Soviet Empire” that purportedly
oppressed and obstructed the historical development of the ethnic
periphery with the Russians playing the role of assimilators. The
imperial paradigm as an explanation of the nature and causes of the
breakup of the Soviet Union is inconsistent, and rejected by the
more astute historians, political analysts, and politicians. For
example, studies on the history of ‘nation-building’ and ‘national
policy’ – that is to say, the history of the country as a
multiethnic State and its policy toward Soviet minorities – have
been published in the United States (Suny R.G. The Revenge of the
Past. Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet
Union.  Stanford, 1993; T. Martin. The
Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet
Union, 1923-1939. Ithaca, 2001).

 

This
refers not to the mission of ethnic Russians but of the Russian
nation, which has always comprised people of various ethnic and
religious backgrounds. Thus, for instance, Russian (above all
Kazan) Tatars played an important role in pre-Revolution
colonization and the Soviet cultural modernization of the Central
Asian region and its population. Russian Ukrainians accounted for a
substantial share of the original inhabitants and settlers in East
Siberia and especially the Russian Far East. They influenced the
development of these regions, including the sparse population of
native peoples. Descendants from the Baltic region, Transcaucasia,
and Ukraine constituted the core of the Soviet political and party
leadership, especially during the period of the so-called
nation-state building and industrialization.

 

What is
the essence of this mission? The civilizing mission of the Russian
nation, including its State as represented by the Russian Empire
and the Soviet Union, comprises two basic aspects – an internal
mission and an external mission. The internal mission concerned
itself with economic, ethno-cultural, and political intercourse
with Eurasia within the Russian nation (its geographic borders and
ethno-religious composition constantly changed). The external
mission involved the economic and industrial development of large
tracts of Eurasian territory and the spread of European norms of
law and cultural values.

The
civilizing mission of the Russian nation consisted in spreading
across a large part of Eurasian territory (the European North, the
Volga region, Siberia, and the Russian Far East) the norms of the
world’s two principal cultural systems, together with their
inculcation among the local population. One of them was
Christianity in the form of Russian Orthodoxy. This civilizing
mission targeted not so much the followers of other world religions
(Buddhism or Islam), which had long been practiced by a part of the
Russian people, as it did that part of the population that had not
been converted into any of the world religions (following the
so-called traditional faiths and practices). Christianity played a
similar role in other parts of the world, especially in America,
with regard to the native population.

 

The second
cultural reproduction and dissemination system is the linguistic
system, based on the Russian language and the Russian-language
culture. The Russian language and Russian-Soviet culture (from
Alexander Pushkin to Nikolai Gogol, to Mikhail Sholokhov to
Chinghiz Aitmatov) played a prominent civilizing role on the
Eurasian continent, not confined to the territory of the historical
Russian state. Russian has been and will remain the language of
cultural interaction and mutual enrichment by representatives of
various ethnic cultures within the bounds of one national culture.
It has been and will remain the language for spreading the
achievements of world civilization throughout the former Soviet
Union. Russian is a vehicle through which the majority of the
population in most of the newly independent states comes into
contact with the world’s cultural heritage and modern mass culture
(in recent years this function in the Baltic countries has also
been performed by the English language), thereby also broadcasting
their own cultural achievements to the world.

 

The
Russian nation has made an invaluable contribution to the cultural
legacy of the peoples of Eastern and Western Europe. The European
culture of the past is inconceivable without the Russian cultural
component, and this contribution will continue in the future,
albeit on a more limited scale (without the new national cultures
of the former Soviet republics that were once part of Russian and
Soviet culture).

 

Following
the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the internal component of
the civilizing mission of the Russian people has gone into retreat,
while its external component has grown. In this respect, President
Putin is right when he refers to the Eurasian continent as the
territory of the former Soviet Union beyond Russia’s borders. This
mission existed in the past and it still exists today, no matter
how much Russia’s detractors denigrate the value of the modern
cultural process. It is only necessary to consider the kind of
books and magazines that are read, the music that people listen to,
and the language spoken by the citizens and political leaders of
the newly independent states.

 

Of course,
the content and value of the civilizing mission evolves
historically, and it is not always an exclusively positive, one-way
process. Nor is it always viewed in the same way by representatives
of different generations and different regions within the zone of
cultural influence and cultural intercourse. It is not only the
exponents of Russian culture, or even the Russian-language culture,
that have contributed important civilizing contacts as part of the
internal mission. As the Russian people incorporated elements of
different cultures and developed contacts with the outside world,
it took in and assimilated much of that foreign experience. Some
components of Russia’s culture were the result of extensive
evolution, including the experience of many peoples and regions
(Transcaucasia, Central Asia, the Baltic region, Moldavia,
Buryatia) in state-building, literature, and
religion.

 

These
mature and highly respectable cultural traditions formed complex
interactions with the dominant Russian cultural component and the
central ruling authority. Much was lost or destroyed, but not more
so than in the evolution of the German nation on the basis of the
Prussian component, the evolution of the British nation on the
basis of the English component, or the evolution of the Chinese
nation on the basis of the Han component. The civilizing mission of
the Russian nation in Eurasia bore especially little resemblance to
the missions of external colonial empires that also contained a
civilizing component, yet the nature of relationships therein was
based not on interaction (even if not always equivalent), but on a
rigid domination-subordination pattern along the mother
country-colony lines. The inclusion of the human resource and
religious-cultural components of the former subjects into the
dominant nations of the colonial civilizing mission is occurring
today, albeit via mass migration of people from former colonies to
their mother countries.

 

How is it
possible for this mission, in Putin’s expression, to carry on? The
future civilizing role of Russia and the people of Russia is in
some respect preordained and unmistakable. However, this role
sometimes also seems barely distinguishable, and on other
occasions, unfathomable. So why should the mission continue? Can it
be just bravado of a “failed country,” a term many domestic and
foreign experts apply to Russia? Russia’s predestination to carry
on this mission remains inviolable if it continues to control a
substantial part of the world’s mineral resources, and,
furthermore, that without these resources, civilization, at least
on the Eurasian continent, will not be able to exist or develop.
The Russian nation remains the only custodian of the cultural value
system based on the Russian language, the Cyrillic alphabet and
Orthodox Christianity, which is still highly relevant for Eurasia,
even though other cultural systems remain and new ones will grow
within the Russian nation, including other world systems
(Judeo-Christian, Euro-Islamic, Buddhist-Mongolian, and others).
Judging by the state of Russia’s resources, intellectual potential
and cultural production, the mission in these two spheres has a
viable future.

 

There is
yet another new purpose in the continuation of Russia’s Eurasian
mission within the next several decades. This purpose is to
preserve the memory and identity of former Soviet citizens,
concerned with their affiliation with the Soviet people, as well as
to perform the function as a host country for all those who
continue to feel an attachment to Russia and would even prefer to
work and live in Russia.

 

The
president’s state-of-the-nation address highlights the need to
eliminate anti-migration attitudes and xenophobia toward our former
compatriots – attitudes deeply ingrained in the minds of both
politicians and ordinary citizens. The rapidly developing economy
and labor market in Russia, together with its shrinking and aging
population, confront the country with the formidable problem of
population reproduction. Other countries in Western Europe face
exactly the same problem. Nevertheless, in 2003, the 25 EU
countries managed to increase their population by 1.9 million, with
immigrants accounting for 90 percent of this growth. By contrast,
Russia has been pursuing a policy of reducing migration from the
former Soviet republics, thus undermining its own national
security.

 

The
president’s state-of-the-nation address does not say that migration
from the newly independent states should be an objective or a
yardstick in evaluating the performance of the country’s migration
services. Rather, it states that Russia is interested in an inflow
of qualified, legal labor resources and that “ultimately, every
legal immigrant must be given an opportunity to become a citizen of
the Russian Federation.” Furthermore, the current law and
citizenship acquisition procedure, as well as the inherent
corruption, do not allow a newcomer to become a “legal immigrant.”
Over the past decade, the Russian people and its State have been
performing the unseemly role of alienating and exploiting their
former compatriots, at the same time deriving huge profits from
their labor. There is a glaring gap in the civilizing mission here,
caused not only by the narrow-minded considerations of political
expediency and security, but also by selfish motives. There is even
some partial revenge for breaking away from
Russia.

 

The most
attractive territory for internal migration within the former
Soviet Union was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic –
that is to say, modern Russia. RSFSR residents also moved to other
Soviet republics. As a rule, this movement was due to labor
migration, oftentimes tinged with propaganda and youthful romance.
In fact, migration exchange was one of the components of the
civilizing mission since qualified cadres from the central part of
the country and “ethnic Russian regions” created an economic and
cultural capability that constituted the foundation of independent
statehood of the newly independent states following the breakup of
the Soviet Union. Local cadres, trained at universities in central
Russia, and specialists who went to the Soviet republics under a
program whereby graduates were required to perform some service to
the state after graduation performed an extremely important
Kulturtraeger mission by wedding rich local tradition with Soviet
cultural achievements. In the past several decades of the existence
of the Soviet Union, more Soviet citizens came to the RSFSR than
left it. Those were for the most part young specialists and workers
at priority construction projects, as well as military servicemen
who wished to stay in Russia upon demobilization. Furthermore,
military service in the RSFSR or in other regions played a
significant role in the cultural and educational development of
residents of the Union Republics.

 

The fact
that migration to Russia continued after the Soviet Union
disintegrated was not a new phenomenon. Furthermore, during the
period between the 1979 and 1989 censuses, the number of people who
had moved to the RSFSR from other republics was higher than in
between the 1989 and 2002 censuses. It is another matter that in
the past decade, migration from Russia to the newly independent
states practically ceased. Russia will remain attractive to our
former compatriots for a long time yet – at least as long as the
living standards, employment and career opportunities here are
better than in other countries. However, this situation cannot last
forever. The discrimination, deception, humiliation, harassment and
even violence that immigrants have been experiencing in Russia of
late have already discouraged many people from taking such risks,
turning the tide of migration toward Eastern and Western Europe,
Turkey, and even China.

 

Despite
the ongoing population decline and the growing labor market, as
well as the recognition by a small part of the state bureaucracy
that immigration is necessary and useful for the country’s
development, Russia’s migration and other services continue to put
the main thrust in their work on “migration control” and the
deportation of illegal migrants. While in 2004, Russia’s population
declined by 700,000, the authorities deported 90,000 potential
employees and citizens, spending more than 100 million rubles of
the budget in the process. At least as many people had to leave
under the threat of deportation and violence.

 

In this
respect, the results of Russia’s civilizing mission are rather
controversial. On the one hand, for more than a decade the country
has served as an employment market and a source of sustenance for
millions of citizens of the newly independent states. On the other
hand, Russia has placed these people in a humiliating position,
limiting the number of those who would like to live in Russia while
giving them a raw deal. As a result, the country lost a historic
chance to attract a segment of the people from the former Soviet
Republics. Russia took its guidance from utopian notions that say
“ethnic Russians” should return to their “historical Motherland”
while others should remain “in their states.” This ignored the fact
that Russia’s civilizing role with regard to its former compatriots
had made them in many respects not simply Soviet people but people
of Russia, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds (Russian, Tatar,
Kyrgyz, Uzbek or Georgian). Russia imprudently decided to abandon
this mission. Today, we must resume this mission and take it to a
new level.