Friday, January 30, 2015

Most Russians ‘Too Lazy to Hate Anyone for Very Long,’ Moscow Ethnographer Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 30 – Russians like other people are “too lazy to hate anyone for very long,” according to Moscow ethnographer Igor Savin. Instead, “after a few months,” they will shift the object of their xenophobia from one group to another, sometimes as a result of official actions and other times as a result of their own experiences.


            A few people do hate this or that group more or less permanently, the researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies says, but most, while they seem to need to focus on some kind of enemy to define themselves, seldom do so, shifting the object of their dislike or hatred from one to another over time (


            Consequently, their current “hatred” of Ukrainians is unlikely to last more than a few months, just as their earlier hostility to immigrants from Central Asia or hatred of Georgia in 2008, Savin told the Moscow paper’s Elena Racheva in the course of an extensive interview in today’s edition.


            The ethnographer’s conclusions are the product of his participation in a year-long study he and his colleagues have carried about concerning relations between native Muscovites and Central Asian gastarbeiters, a study that involved more than 40 focus groups as well as in-depth interviews with members of both groups.


            “Everyone has always had the need to channel hatred,” he says. The difference in how that happens often depends on whether “government and social institutes extinguish it” by one means or another or “in our case, use it” for their own purposes and thus legitimize and intensify it.


            “The level of migrantophobia has declined” over the past year, he says, with “half of the phobia and that not to a high degree now directed at Ukraine,” a shift he says that has little to do with the experiences of people but rather with the efforts of the media to direct anger away from one group and toward another.


            There are no non-xenophobes, Savin argues, because “people who do not experience some form of distrust to other groups, real or imagined, do not exist.”  Russians have been unwilling to face up to that fact in large measure because they continue to “exaggerate the internationalist quality of Russia” that supposedly was inherited from Soviet times.


            In reality, he continues, “in the USSR there were so few ‘others’ present” in Russian cities that “all Soviet nationalism was controlled.” There were simply too few targets of opportunity as it were. Immigration has only been a serious thing over the last decade, and “people still haven’t reached an understanding as to how they should think about it.”


            The government could help calm the situation if it would be honest and say that “’we have few citizens and we need new human material, however cynical that sounds.”  Immigrants thus play a valuable role, and “if they do not violate the law, then they are equal to us in the rights but also equal in their responsibilities.”


            “I also say to colleagues: we do not need migrantophilia or migrantophobia; we need migrantorealism. Migrants are also people: they act according to the very same laws” that others do.  Moreover, he says, migrants in Moscow typically say they are being treated “better than is in fact the case” because they do not want to exacerbate the situation.


            Asked who is the object of Russian dislike now, Savin cities the findings of a 2013 poll.  At that time, Russians identified Belarusians and Russians as those closest to them and against whom they felt the least hostility. “Following them were the Jews, then the Armenians and the Georgians. Then, the Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Tajiks.”


            And the three groups Russians at that time said they felt the greatest xenophobia aobut were the Chinese, the Chechens and the Roma. “Certainly,” their attitudes toward Ukrainians have changed, Savin says, “but what is surprising is something else. In 2007-2008, there was an anti-Georgian campaign, and it seemed that Russians would hate Georgians forever.”


            But only a couple of years later, most Russians viewed the Georgians in a positive light, and almost none of them saw that Caucasian people as an enemy.



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