Russia society between assimilation and multiculturalism, scholar says (8)
Archived Articles 27 Sep 2006 Paul GobleEWR
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VIENNA – In dealing with immigrants and ethnic minorities, the post-Soviet Russian Federation has not adopted either of the two approaches used elsewhere -- assimilation as in France or multiculturalism as in Canada, according to Moscow’s leading ethno-sociologist.

Instead, Leokadiya Drobizheva, the head of the Center of Ethnic Sociology at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, argues in an interview published in the current issue of “NG Scenarios,” Russia is following its own unique “path,” something she believes both the government and the population are beginning to understand.

That path, the longtime student of ethnic issues in Eurasia says, is based on two propositions: First, everyone who lives in the Russian Federation is “a citizen of the country and should behave as such. The unity and integrity of the country are priority matters” (

And second, she continues, the residents of Russia need to recognize that they “live in a polyethnic country” and respect the history and culture of other peoples and observe the principles of equality and free choice.” Within the confines of those two principles, she says, everyone is or at least should be free to choose his or her identity.

Both migrants and attitudes to migrants are changing, Drobizheva continues. Migrants are cleaning up their backgardens, carrying out the trash, and improving their neighborhoods. And in response, the relationship of many Russians to them “is becoming different” from what it was.

A major reason for that, Drobizheva suggests, is that Russians are beginning to recognise what people in Germany understand: longtime residents need to protect the migrants because the migrants perform a lot of the work that the indigenous population wants done but does not want to do itself.      

To promote these positive trends, the ethno-sociologist says, the media and the government have extremely important roles to play.  The media must communicate both a positive image of all groups and also contribute to the idea that “when in Rome, live as the Romans to” in order to acculturate new arrivals.

The government’s tasks are far more numerous.  First of all, it must promote democracy because only in a democratic environment can various groups learn to live with each other without repression.  Second, the government must develop a new set of relationships with the population.

On the one hand, she argues, it must always take the polyethnic composition of the population into account when it makes policy or adopts laws. And on the other, the composition of the government must look like the population it serves – with all groups visibly represented among its employees.

If the government does all that, it will be able to prevent a link up between ethnic issues and socio-economic ones and thus over time reduce the significance of ethnic distinctions among the population as Western countries like Canada have succeeded in doing.

But above and beyond all that, Drobizheva says, the Russian Federation and its residents must come to terms with the very globalization that contributed to migration in the first place. Globalization requires the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment, and some groups, she continues, are more adept at doing so than others.

Despite her notably upbeat reading of the situation, Drobizheva acknowledges that things could go very wrong and that existing ethnic tensions could redraw “the political map” of the Russian Federation.  In particular, she points to three serious dangers.

First, she says, unfavorable economic conditions in ethnically mixed border regions have the potential to explode if officials do the wrong thing.  She suggested that the Kremlin-backed plan to unite Adygeya with Krasnodar kray could prove to be a grave mistake.

Second, there is always the risk that candidates will play up the ethnic factor in electoral campaigns. “It is evident,” she continues, “that in the upcoming elections the Russian-patriotic factor will be used” by some parties.

And third, the authorities may not be able to avoid “conflicts in large cities,” where the balancing of the interests of various groups is “no easy task for either government or society,” although she concluded that individuals will play a greater role in the resolution of these problems than either society or the state as a whole.
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