Staunton, January 26 – Simon Kordonsky, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics who has specialized in the ways in which Russian life is coming out from under the power of the state, says that the nations, as defined by Stalin in the 1920s and that are still believed in by officials, are disappearing and being replaced by others defined by their members.
Among the most important phenomena that official statistics do not capture because officials use definitions left over from Soviet times are those involving national identities and the search by people for new ones of that kind, the sociologist says (platf.info/interviews/simon-kordonskij-rossiya-kak-territoriya-anomii).
“The Stalin ‘nations’ were created at the end of the 1920s when were set up languages and national schools and existed until the end of the 1980s as ‘statistical’ nations. But after the party disappeared, these statistical nations began to be transformed into living ones,” Kordonsky says.
“How are they finding their identity?” he asks. “In a Mordvinian village, we have seen how club workers have constructed national Mordvinian costumes. On their tables lay alboms with the most varied forms, and they made from this cutouts and thus construing the external attribute of their identity.”
Something similar but even more dramatic is taking place in the Altay. “There 11 clans were united into the accounting category ‘Altays.’ Recognition of their membership is occurring via the divergence among ‘Altays’ according to these same 11 clans, and each clan is attempting to create for itself a history and root its existence.”
Kordonsky says that he “does not see a rational way out of this situation,” but he points out that Russia is hardly alone in facing this problem. China also adopted “the Stalinist conception of the nation” and created 56 national regional autonomies. But there are “many more ethnoses” than that, and now there is “very strong pressure from below” to recognize that.
In both Chin and Russia, “these nations were nominal and suddenly they began to live their own lives,” but how they can do so is something “they do not understand” and that “no one is discussing.” Consequently, they are often at a loss.
“This is a very interesting problem,” Kordonsky says. “The nations which were created by Stalin is essence were social strata, that is, accounting groups created by the state. These strata penetrated everything and were supported by the apparatus. The first secretary was by nationality a member of the indigenous group, but the second secretary was Russian.’
And that arrangement “translated across the entire hierarchy including the educational system.” As long as the CPSU was in power, this system worked; but when the party dissolved, “elements of the structure came apart and began to live their own lives.”
This problem with ethnic identity is only part and parcel of a large and “enormous” problem, that of “identity as a whole.” Russians find it difficult to say what world they are a part of or what social stratum or even in what historical time or era they live. The lack of answers to these questions mean that “all [Russian] society is living in conditions of anomie.”
To put these thing is order, Kordonsky continues, is “the task of a politician rather than of a sociologist. But for this, politicians must think in those categories” which people use to describe themselves. Unfortunately, that is often a dead end because people in Russia often “do not describe themselves in any categories.”