The Decline of Multiculturalism
No. 1 2011 January/March
Emil Pain

Professor at the National Research University–Higher School of Economics; General Director of the Center for Ethno-Political Studies. He holds a Doctorate in Political Science.

Or the Revival of Modern Culture

Criticism of multiculturalism is becoming a fashionable political trend in Europe, but it is drawing divergent responses in Russia. In the meantime, the meaning of the concept has not been completely clarified to this day, and the debate on the issue remains purely political. In this article I venture to present my own theory postulating that the weakening of the purely traditionalist ideology, as expressed in the concept of vulgar (simplified, emasculated) multiculturalism is due to fundamental historical trends – the rising and falling tides of modernization.


In the 1990s, Samuel Huntington proposed a model describing the global spread of democracy as ocean tides. He also coined the term of a “reverse wave” of democratization to explain almost inevitable, but temporary retreats of early democracy under pressure from the traditional, non-democratic regimes, deeper rooted in the life of peoples. The “reverse wave” concept explains well not only the rugged and tortuous path towards democratization, but also a wider range of processes encompassed by the notion of “modernization.” This concept allows for better understanding of the nature of one of globalization paradoxes.

At the late 20th century, two trends, mutually exclusive at first sight, simultaneously manifested themselves: on the one hand, the growth of inter-relationships among countries around the world and certain standardization of their cultures; on the other hand, the growth of cultural differentiation and disintegration associated with the phenomenon of so-called “ethnic and religious revival.” The growth of traditional forms of group identity (ethnic, religious, racial) strongly manifested itself since the end of the 1960s, and it further increased in the 1980s-1990s. At a certain point this trend engulfed most countries of the world, which has caused a global crisis of modernity that would last for almost half a century. At that time deep erosion affected the core values of modern culture and, above all, the values of individual freedom, rational consciousness and human rights. These processes were accompanied by worsening conflicts between ethnic and religious groups not only in the former colonial countries with incomplete national consolidation of society, but also in the long-established nation states of Europe and in the United States.

Most often the above noted paradox of globalization is attributed to the natural resistance of non-Western cultural traditions to the processes of standardization and unification of human activities. Without denying the role of the traditional cultures’ resistance to modernization changes, I still believe that the main factor that triggered the wave of traditionalism was impulses external to culture – namely, radical changes in the economic, intellectual and political life of the world that emerged in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Economic change. On the eve of the renaissance of traditionalism there developed radical changes of the global economic strategy, which contributed in no small measure to changes in the cultural policy. Since the late 1960s, the desire to reduce labor costs, the costs of developing social infrastructures, of maintaining environmental safety and other requirements of the industrial and democratic society stimulated the export of capital and transfer of industrial facilities from the developed countries to the developing ones. This strategy encouraged the corporate sector to adapt the industrial technologies and managerial ideologies to the cultural specificities of the countries concerned. Easy to use, the new technologies proved very easy to employ in different cultural and social conditions. The introduction of these technologies did not require any significant changes to traditional cultures, like those in the previous era that accompanied the advent of the first hydraulic and steam machines, and then diesel and electric-powered mechanisms. Therefore, instead of the earlier Western strategies of breaking the traditional cultures there emerged a strategy of adapting the Western economy to traditional cultures.

This policy was carried out inside Western countries too, as the local workforce was extensively replaced with a cheaper one, recruited from the community of immigrants. This new strategy not only reduced the standardizing function of industrialization with regard to the traditional cultures, but also stimulated the growth of traditionalism and legitimized it. Business ceased to be the primary protector and driving force of modernization and ideas of cultural universalism, which, in turn, reinforced the trends of global intellectual climate change in the last third of the 20th century.

Change in public attitudes. The idea of modernization as universal progress, which was dominant since the 19th century, underwent devastating criticism in the late 1960s-1970s. During this period (the time of decolonization) modernization began to be increasingly often referred to as “forcible civilizationism and an instrument of colonialism” and also “implicit totalitarianism.” Leftwing post-modernism in Europe, represented by Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Herbert Marcuse and other philosophers of the 1960s, literally bombarded the classical theory of modernization with reproaches of anti-humanism and suppression of the rights of peoples to cultural identity.

One of the reasons for the harsh criticism of modernization were the problems (real and imaginary) in a number of third world countries, which undergone modernization largely under the pressure of external forces. In some of these countries, especially African ones, modernization was accompanied by the destruction of traditional institutions and lifestyles, resulting in greater social disorganization of communities.

However, in those years it was still too early to assess the results of industrial modernization, the positive effects of which would manifest themselves by the early 2000s. Only now have they become visible – and precisely in those countries where modernization was the most complete and consistent. It was those countries that managed to overcome or substantially mitigate the major disaster of the African continent – the high child mortality. Benin, Botswana, Namibia, Niger, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles, Senegal and some other countries (about 25 percent of the African states) from 1995 to 2007 achieved a reduction of child mortality by an average of 18 percent. There developed relatively stable democratic regimes in those countries and a 15-percent cumulative growth in the per capita income was achieved. In contrast, most of the 24 autocratic states in Africa, where the elites struggled not so much to solve the centuries-old internal problems as with the so-called “export of modernization,” have shown negative economic and social indicators since 1995.

But all this became known only at the beginning of the 21st century, while in the 1970s most Western intellectuals demonized modernization in the “third world,” describing it only as a form of colonialism and, simultaneously, idealized the rise of national liberation movements and the return of people to traditional social practices and lifestyles. These ideas were quickly picked up in the East, where they served as the basis for the emergence of a variety of fronts of resistance to “new Western crusaders.” Many researchers have long paid attention to the fact that the political philosophy of Islamic fundamentalism is a kind of collage, composed of the ideas of leftwing European postmodernism and antiglobalism.

Thus, in the 1960s and 1970s, Western intellectuals, generators of meanings and engineers of public opinion, significantly encouraged the changes in the global political strategies in the last third of the 20th century, spurring up a wave of traditionalization. With respect to modernization it was a “reverse wave,” a retreat from the idea of organic and purposeful social renewal.



One of the important indications that the modernity culture was in crisis was seen in the change of Western concepts of national and cultural policy in the 1970s. Until that time the transformations of empires and the formation of nation states had over several centuries been accompanied by policies of encouraging cultural homogeneity. Georg Friedrich Hegel and Francois Guizot, Edward Taylor and Alexis de Tocqueville, Jean Jaures and Max Weber, however different their political preferences, all strongly supported the principle of cultural homogeneity of the nation state.

Meanwhile, no unity was observed either in its interpretation or in its translation into reality. The ideas of the degree of cultural homogeneity varied, for some it was expressed in the formula of the French revolution: “One country, one nation, one language,” while for others it was confined to the homogeneity of political and legal culture, while allowing for the diversity of ethnic and religious identities. In the latter case, one might say it was the country’s transition from the policy of cultural assimilation to a policy of integrating different cultures into a single civil community. With time the idea of national civic integration supplanted the doctrine of cultural assimilation, and after WWII it became the foundation of the national cultural policy in the West.

Cultural assimilation in the 18th-19th centuries was achieved mainly through imposing one language on the country’s population, violent suppression of the local or imported languages, and rigid restrictions on the functioning of local cultures. Civic integration was established on very different principles. It was based on the idea of complementing local cultures with a unified civil one and on the promotion of such complemented cultural homogeneity with indirect methods. The U.S. policy of the “melting pot” melted the cultures of immigrant groups using socio-economic instruments, mainly, a system of benefits and incentives. This policy did not prohibit the use of ethnic cultures in everyday life, but at the same time it encouraged immigrants to adapt themselves to uniform civil rules on the basis of mastering the English language, as well as general cultural norms of the so-called “white Protestant majority.” This policy has shown that civic culture develops not instead of ethnic cultures, but along with them.

From the late 1940s, the policy of the “melting pot” and civic integration (in various versions) became dominant in the United States and Europe. But already in the 1960s, under the pressure of postmodernism such a policy gradually began to be more and more negatively perceived by Western public opinion, which was then unable to distinguish between forced assimilation and voluntary civic integration. Besides, integration at that time was still inconsistent and incomplete. For example, in the U.S. it was limited by racial segregation. These restrictions were to be removed. However, instead of being improved, the integration policy was simply brushed aside. Such things did happen in history quite often.

In the 1970s, the world saw the rise of a different concept, that of “multiculturalism,” which renounced the idea of civic integration and encouraged group cultural diversity and simple co-existence of communities within a single state. In 1971, the principles of multiculturalism were included in the Constitution of Canada; in 1973 this example was followed by Australia, and in 1975, by Sweden. Since the early 1980s, these principles have firmly established themselves in the political practice of most Western countries and became a norm, a kind of benchmark for international organizations.

The monitoring of the effects of the implementation of this political doctrine for almost four decades provides grounds to conclude that along with solving some problems, such as encouraging people to get used to the cultural diversity that is inevitable and growing in today’s world, it brings about other problems, exacerbating society’s communal divide and provoking inter-group conflicts. However, this duality is not the sole factor that makes the implications of this phenomenon very difficult to assess.



Multiculturalism is still one of the most ambiguous terms found in the political vocabulary, and it means only what each particular speaker wishes it to mean. The advocates of multiculturalism see it as a parameter of modern society, represented by a variety of cultures, and as a strictly culturological principle, which postulates that people of different ethnicity, religions and races must learn to live alongside each other, without abandoning their cultural identities. This approach usually does not encounter any opposition among serious European politicians. They are opposed to some other aspects of multiculturalism, viewing it through the prism of government policies.

Since supporters and opponents of multiculturalism evaluate it from different perspectives, the discussion of this concept sometimes  resembles sheer confusion and misunderstanding, as if people were seriously arguing about what exactly a casual passerby they had just met on the street was wearing – a raincoat or an expression of dire loneliness on his face? Approximately the same sort of conflict occurred during the debates over the political statements made in late 2010 and early 2011 by the leaders of three countries – Germany, Britain and France – about “the failure” of the policy of multiculturalism.

What was it all about? What does the “failure” of multiculturalism mean? None of the three leaders questioned the very need for the peaceful coexistence of different cultures within one state. All of them used the word “failure” in relation to multiculturalism solely as a particular political strategy; in other words, they were speaking about government officials’ wrong selection of the principle of interaction between different ethnic, racial and religious communities within one country. In fact, the three European politicians spoke merely about multicultural disintegration of their countries.

Angela Merkel was the first to touch upon this subject. In her speech (on November 18, 2010) Germany’s federal chancellor recognized multiculturalism as a generally accepted fact of coexistence of different cultures in Germany (for instance, as Merkel said “Islam has become an integral part of Germany”), and criticized vulgar multiculturalism, i.e. the political practices that led to the separate and closed existence of communities within a single state. It was that isolation (“they live side by side, but they do not interact with each other”) that Merkel defined as “absolute failure” of the policy of multiculturalism.

The same idea was repeated by the British prime minister, David Cameron, who also made an important clarification. Speaking in Munich at the International Conference on Security Policy (on February 5, 2011), he said that the issue of multiculturalism was not so much the specificity of different religious cultures, represented in modern Britain, as the new British subjects’ lack of uniform, common, civil British identity. In 2007, a sociological survey in the UK found that one-third of British Muslims believed they were closer to Muslims from other countries than to their fellow English subjects. These and other facts provided the basis for Cameron to conclude that “this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.” In order to overcome the cultural division of society and establish positive pluralism, the British prime minister proposed a special liberal civic concept, which he called “muscular liberalism.” In his view, the integration will happen, if the authorities “encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people.”

“That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighborhoods.  It will also help build stronger pride in local identity,” he said.

In February 2011, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the last of the EU leaders to dwell upon multiculturalism. Sarkozy himself is a living embodiment of multiculturalism as an integral part of the cultural phenomenon of modern Europe. After all, the story of the Sarkozy family is an example of a blend of at least three cultural traditions: French, Hungarian and Jewish. It is clear that the French president’s criticism of multiculturalism is not culturological, but political. He and his EU counterparts blame the failure of this strategy on violations of the principles of civic integration: “We do not need a society in which communities simply coexist alongside each other,” Sarkozy said on February 12, 2011. “If someone comes to France, such a person must join the single community, which is national.” At this point I should recall that in France the term nation (national community) has for over two centuries been used in relation to co-citizenship and a common civic identity.


In political circles multiculturalism has two kinds of critics.

Conservative criticism (commentators often call it “cultural imperialism” or “new racism”) proceeds from the need for replacing multiculturalism with monoculturalism and insists on a statutory regime of privileges for the dominant cultural groups (religious and ethnic). The advocates of this position (the neo-Nazis in Germany, the far-right activists of the English Defence League in Britain, and Marine Le Pen’s party in France) are very negative in their assessment of statements by the current leaders of their countries, which they have described as “toothless,” “shallow PR stunts” and “deception of society.”

In the meantime, the positions of Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron are closer to the liberal criticism of multiculturalism, which proceeds from the idea that the preservation of cultural identity is an indisputable right of all citizens. However, such preservation is often achieved not voluntarily but through pressure from a community, and comes into conflict with the rights of other people, the principle of equality, and the civil essence of modern society

The liberal criticism of multiculturalism offers the following arguments. 

First, this policy provides government support not so much for cultures, as communities and groups that groundlessly take on a mission to represent the interests of the whole ethnic group or religion.

Second, government sponsoring of communities encourages the development of communitarian (community) identity, while suppressing the individual one. This policy consolidates absolute power of the community/group over an individual who is deprived of the right of choice. 

Third, multiculturalism artificially preserves the traditional community relations, preventing the individual integration of representatives of different cultures into civil society. In many countries in Europe and the U.S. there are known numerous cases in which people who have lost their ethnic or religious identity were forced to return to it for the sole reason that the government sponsors not culture but communities (their schools, clubs, theaters, sports organizations, etc.). In Russia, the benefits addressed to the “indigenous Arctic minorities” in the 1990s brought about a rapid increase (an impression of an increase, to be precise) in the size of such groups, as representatives of other cultures, Russian, in the first place, began to position themselves (of course, only on paper) as members of indigenous peoples, hoping to receive social benefits, too.

 And fourth, the main drawback of the policy of multiculturalism is that it provokes the segregation of groups, creating artificial boundaries between communities and forming a sort of ghettos on a voluntary basis.

In many countries around the world there have emerged closed mono-ethnic, mono-religious or mono-racial neighborhoods and schools. In student canteens one can see “blacks only” tables. There crop up “Asian” dormitories or discos for the “coloreds,” which are no-go areas for “whites.” In 2002, the imam of a small French town, Roubaix, declared as impermissible a visit to that locality by Martine Aubry – a prominent political person, the mayor of Lille, former Minister of Labor, and later Socialist Party leader and candidate for the French presidency. The imam claimed that the town was a “Muslim area” covered by “haram,” a ban on visits by Christian women. This is an example of a very common and paradoxical situation – multiculturalism at the country level manifests itself as harsh monoculturalism and segregation at the local level.

The same paradoxical transformations happen to other values that in the 1970s furnished the basis for the idea of multiculturalism. This policy, according to its architects, was supposed to protect humanism, the freedom of cultural expression and democracy. It has turned out that in practice the emergence of closed communities and quarters leads to the emergence of alternative government institutions that block the activities of elected bodies at the level of the city and the country. In such conditions the protection of human rights is practically impossible. For example, young Turkish or Pakistani women, brought as wives for the inhabitants of the Turkish quarters of Berlin, or the Pakistani districts of London, are less free and less secure there than they would be at home. There they could expect at least some sort of protection on the part of their family from excessive arbitrariness by the husband or the in-laws. In the European cities the very same young women often cannot be saved by relatives, or the force of law. This mockery of multiculturalism, stripped of all values of humanism, contributes to the revival in European cities of some archaic features of traditional culture that have long been forgotten in the immigrants’ parent countries.

In some Islamic countries women have become not only members of parliament, judges, government ministers or heads of government (Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and Tansu Ciller in Turkey). But in the Islamic quarters of European cities Turkish, Arab or Pakistani women can be killed for any disobedience in the family to the man, for a mere suspicion of adultery, or for not wearing a headscarf. True, in Germany Turkish woman Aygul Ozkan became a minister of the land government of Lower Saxony (April 2010). However, she represents the handful of immigrants who managed to break off with the local community and to get individually integrated into German civil society.

In the closed Islamic quarters of Berlin, London or Paris young people have far less opportunities of socialization and adaptation to local conditions than their counterparts living outside these voluntary ghettos. For this reason alone the inmates of these communities are certainly not competitive at the general country level. By the early 2000s, only one in twelve Turkish students in Berlin passed the full secondary school course exams, whereas among German schoolchildren, such exams were passed by one in three graduates. Similarly, unemployment affects young Turks to a far greater extent than Germans. In 2006, 47 percent of young Turkish women under 25 and 23 percent of young Turkish men were unemployed and lived off welfare benefits. In this case, the very possibility of receiving benefits with almost no time limitation does not encourage immigrants to integrate into the host community. Moreover, sociological studies show that young Turks in Germany show less aspiration for integration than the older generation of Turks. This is a real manifestation of the failure of multiculturalism policy, or rather – a policy of cultural disintegration.


There is mounting evidence that multiculturalism appeared only as a historical episode, as a manifestation of a short-term “reverse wave” that concludes the cycle of industrial modernization. That wave was caused by impulses external to culture, and their strength is now declining.

The economy. In the 1970s, the global division of labor was determined by the economic need for reducing labor costs, and the quality of that labor force and the skill of workers were then less important than the abundance and cheapness of labor. An industrial economy itself simplified its technologies, adapting them to social and cultural standards prevailing in the given locality. The new post-industrial economy of high technologies is far less suitable for adaptation to local traditional cultures. The very essence of “high technology” eliminates the possibility of simplifying it, so it is more demanding about the quality of the workforce, being rated by universal and standardized criteria.

This factor is already changing the nature of the global division of labor. In the countries of the “global North” demand for low-skilled labor is shrinking. Most of these countries pursue migration policies that encourage the inflow of only highly skilled professionals. The attitude to the export of capital is changing, too. Experts are saying that these days “American companies prefer to place first-stage production processes (highly intellectual work and pilot manufacturing) at home in America; the second stage (production of items that require skilled manual labor) – in regions boasting high quality of technical culture and long traditions of skilled industrial labor (for example, in Scotland), and third-stage production which requires routine, labor-intensive, low-skill work (assembly, manufacture of components for electronic products, etc.) – in countries such as Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia.”

In such circumstances, countries that retain significant resources of traditional culture, inherent in non-urbanized societies, are doomed to accommodate only labor-intensive production processes, requiring routine and unskilled labor. As these countries, or some of them, are increasingly involved in the development of their own postindustrial production, they will have to substantially alter the prevailing internal cultural climate. The economy once again plays its creative function in relation to traditional culture, which it partially lost during its adaptation to local traditions.

Politics. The industrial phase of modernization could be carried out under different types of political regimes: democratic, authoritarian and totalitarian. At the post-industrial stage of modernization there increases the demand for the individual activity and creativity of the employee. This, in turn, requires fundamental socio-political changes in society. The economic modernization sooner or later brings about social and political modernization. It was not accidental that the transition of a number of countries in Asia (primarily, Japan and South Korea) to the innovative stage of modernization was accompanied by the process of their democratization. Similar processes occurred in Latin America (for instance, Brazil), and earlier, in Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Greece). In Russia, too, the political establishment has been developing the awareness that economic successes will increasingly depend on “fair elections.” And the fact that they are utterly impossible without fair administration of justice was realized long ago.

Cultural development. The wave of traditionalism, as I have tried to show above, in no small measure generated an archaic policy of multiculturalism, which revived and enhanced inter-communal divisions. Now this fact has begun to be recognized not only by most experts, but also by political circles. The White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, issued by the Council of Europe in 2009, evaluated negatively the concepts of “cultural assimilation” and “multiculturalism” in its current form. International organizations and almost all democratic countries have switched to a new strategy.

This strategy involves, first, the encouragement of immigrant groups’ integration in the host communities with the use of incentives and sanctions and, second, the “separation of spheres of culture.” In the public sphere the authorities promote cultural homogeneity, based on acceptance of common formal rules, controlled by the civil society. In private and spiritual life, the possibility of cultural diversity is guaranteed. For example, the church is the place for worship, while the street is an area of common secular use. With reliance on this approach, Sarkozy said: “In France we don’t want people to pray in an ostentatious manner in the street.” He added, though, that it was normal to have mosques in the country. It is assumed that such a compromise model allows for ensuring respect for human rights regardless of people’s cultural features, while maintaining the diversity of a multicultural society.

The model of “separating spheres of culture” reflects, of course, the latest change in public sentiments, although it remains very imperfect theoretically. In real life it is impossible to draw a demarcation line between private and public matters. For example, the rearing of children in the family, it would seem, is a very private affair. But how then should one regard the bans on the use of physical punishment in child rearing adopted in several European countries? Likewise, the laws requiring parents should pay child support for the maintenance of children after divorce are actual invasion of the private sphere. Even the advocates of this or that cultural group in the private sphere inevitably appeal to the public. The very existence of ethnic or religious communities today is impossible without public meetings, periodicals, a system of education and other attributes of publicity.

Undoubtedly, the new concept is extremely controversial. However, such inconsistency is typical of most of the principles the modern political structure of nation states rests upon. The principle of human rights may be in conflict with the principle of protecting national security. And in case of soaring threats any country introduces restrictions on human rights, from screening and searching at airports to the declaration of a state of emergency (in extreme cases, of course). In practice, the contradictions between the basic principles of a policy are always resolved through a system of priorities. They have acted at all times and in all spheres of public life, including the ethnic and cultural policies.

Even in the heyday of the policy of multiculturalism this principle had limitations. For example, countries with left-handed traffic have never allowed representatives of any community to maintain or reproduce right-handed traffic as their “ethnic feature.” No European country that has let Islam into its territory permits polygamy, adopted in the Islamic tradition, because this principle could ruin the whole system of European family and property law created for the monogamous family. Later this principle was rejected as utterly discriminative towards women. Now, amid the rising criticism of multiculturalism the priorities of common civilian standards have gained still more strength in comparison with group norms.

The world keeps searching for new cultural policy strategies. One of the most promising, in my opinion, is the model of “individual freedom and cultural choice.” Its basic principles were outlined by Amartya Sen – a famous thinker and scholar, Nobel Laureate in economics. His main idea postulates the gradual weakening of group forms of identification and the transition to individual choice. Cultural freedom, Sen explains, gives individuals the right to live and exist in accordance with their own choice, having a real opportunity to evaluate other options. Sen stresses the idea that many of the world’s injustices persist and thrive just because they turn their victims into allies by denying them the opportunity to choose a different life, and even inhibit the chances of learning about the existence of that alternative life. The ethnic, religious and other group cultural traditions are by and large not voluntary, but “ascriptive,” i.e. imposed on the individual from the moment of birth. Therefore the primary objective of the policy of promoting cultural freedom is to ease that predestination and promote individual multiculturalism.

The concept of cultural freedom has been enthusiastically welcomed by many experts in cultural policy matters. However, it has not yet become the norm in Western countries. As for the chances of its implementation in the Russian context, it looks very unlikely to me in the foreseeable future – not because the Russian people will resist it. The layer of Russian cultural soil most difficult for innovation to negotiate is the one that has been customarily called “the Russian elite.”


At a February 2011 meeting of Russia’s State Council, which discussed issues of inter-ethnic communication, President Dmitry Medvedev threw his weight behind the term “multiculturalism.” He said the catch phrases about its failure were not applicable to Russia these days. In my opinion, such an assessment is a result of misunderstanding, of “the Jourdain effect.” That fictional character, too, had no idea he spoke in prose. The fact is the Russian leader himself had repeatedly criticized the very same traits of multiculturalism as his European counterparts. Particularly often he did so in describing the situation in the North Caucasus, where multicultural disintegration is extremely evident in clanism, ethnic separatism and religious radicalism. All this creates almost insurmountable obstacles to the governability of the region and an unprecedented wave of terrorism, not to mention the problems of modernization in that area. The Russian president, as well as the European leaders, has repeatedly linked the problem of overcoming this fragmentation with civic integration, which he has defined differently. At a December 2010 meeting of the State Council, devoted to the explosion of Russian nationalism, Medvedev called for the promotion of “all-Russia patriotism,” and at the February meeting of the State Council in Ufa he set “the task of creating a Russian nation.”

The Russian version of the multiculturalism policy is older and more complex in terms of its consequences than the European one. Multiculturalism as a form of promoting group and communal identity was an integral part of Stalin’s policy of creating ethnic republics (the “Union republics” in the Soviet Union and “autonomous” ones), as well as ethnic areas and regions. However, in the Soviet era the disintegration effects of such policies were neutralized, as the whole system of autonomies was sheer simulation, a facade screening an integral system of territorial Communist Party rule. The problem exacerbated in the post-Soviet era, when local elites tried to inject some real meaning into the formal and ostensible sovereignty of their republics.

A whole decade (the 1990s) was keynoted by the rise of so-called “titular nationalities” in the republics of Russia, led by the local elites, in the drive for republican sovereignty. In some cases, such mobilization led to open wars of large groups of the population with the federal government, the way it happened in Chechnya. In the first decade of the 2000s the situation changed to bring into focus some other problems, such as the rejection of alien ethnic migrants by the host community, especially, by residents of large Russian cities.

This problem gave rise to clashes between different groups of the population, like the one that occurred in Kondopoga in 2006. At the same time, the ethno-political situation in Russia in the 2000s became increasingly similar to the problems of countries of the “global North.” It might seem this similarity would allow Russia to better use foreign concepts and practices of cultural, migration and ethnic policies. However, in reality the possibility of direct implementation of such positive concepts and practices is very limited.

The problem of the policy’s target groups. In the West, xenophobia in the host communities is focused mainly on immigrants, i.e., foreign nationals arriving in the given country from elsewhere. In Russia, the main targets for xenophobia are not so much immigrants as domestic migrants, citizens of the Russian Federation, guests from the North Caucasus republics. This alone shows that the policy of easing migration problems by limiting the entry of foreign citizens and changing the conditions of granting citizenship or residence permits that is applied in the West cannot be used as a tool for solving the problems of Russian ethnic and religious tensions.

The problem of fragmentation of political management of migration and ethnic policies. In the EU countries the trends in the development of legislation and political practices in the field of migration control and protection of human and minority rights are interrelated, both institutionally (all are included in a single control unit) and ideologically (based on common values of human rights). In Russia there is no common ideological foundation for the integration policy, and control and legislative practices are fragmented and dissociated. In the 2000s, the migration policy underwent changes. In the meantime, the ethnic (nationalities) policy of Russia has remained frozen the way it was in the 1990s. The concept of the state nationalities policy, adopted in 1996, is not reviewed. In 2000-2010, the legislative activity of the State Duma in the area of ethnic (nationalities) policy was paralyzed, and the ministry that under various names was responsible for carrying out such a policy in the 1990s was abolished.

The problem of the fundamental features of government functioning. In the West, the main innovations in the field of ethnic and migration policies are formed by political parties and civil society institutions; they undergo public discussion, and then they are accepted and codified by the legislatures to become the rule for the executive branch to follow. Russia demonstrates a fundamentally different way of policy-making in all spheres of life. Its principles and norms are formulated by the executive authorities and then approved by the parties represented in the Federal Assembly. Under this method of policy-making the participation of the expert community and the general public in its shaping and implementation is very limited, and the risk of counterproductive political decisions, by contrast, is extremely high. In addition, the parties barred from real participation in shaping policies and not burdened with the responsibility for its implementation are prone to populism. It is not accidental that almost all the parties represented in the Russian parliament capitalize on ethnic phobias and migrants phobias, whereas in the largest EU countries, such parties are either not represented in parliament at all (as is the case in Germany and the UK), or are in the minority there, as in France. Russia is among the European leaders by the level of mass migrants phobia, although by this parameter it is not ahead of such EU countries as Hungary, Latvia, Greece and Portugal.

In the EU, the main mechanism of implementing ethnic-cultural and migration policies is interaction between the executive authorities and civil society institutions. This interaction makes the participation of citizens in politics continuous, not limited only by the time of elections. In Russia, the institutions of civil society are extremely weak. Moreover, judging by the findings of international researchers, Russia stands out among the 28 countries of Europe with its lowest value of civic solidarity and mutual (“horizontal”) trust. At the same time, attempts at spurring the process of civic integration solely with media manipulations for the sake of promoting “all-Russian patriotism” will not succeed. All this puts a big question mark over the chances of catalyzing the process of civic integration in Russia in the coming years.

And yet I believe that Russia’s movement away from multicultural division to multicultural integration is strategically inevitable. Russia has embarked on the path of modernization and innovation, and this is not a slogan of just another leader, but a vital necessity for a country with great history and great culture. The innovation economy itself inevitably requires political, legal and socio-cultural modernization as well – like inhaling implies exhaling.