25 April 2010

Russia: The Multi-Ethnic Society

Americans have multiple images of Russia, many of which linked to the Cold War.  Most of these images of Russia are uneducated, unsophisticated, and at times, bigoted. 

Two of the more common images that I have encountered are "the wasteland" and "the xenophobe."  According to the wasteland image, Russia is a boring, barren, gray country with people whose psyche and physique reflects their industrial wasteland ambiance.  According to the xenophobe image, Russia is a highly homogenized society where everyone is tall, blond, Slavic, and intolerant of other ethnic groups (or "nationalities" in Russian vernacular). 

The Xenophobe Image:  Russians All Come From the Same Mold
Sadly, "the xenophobe" is a popular image amongst some of the more educated Americans.  Repeatedly, I was warned that I would not be welcomed in Moscow because I am obviously neither Russian nor Slavic.  My personal experience debunks this image of Russia.

Some readers will want to point out that my experience are not in the mainstream as I am in Russia's most cosmopolitan city and I have the privilege to associated with some of the most educated and gifted people in this country.  Both points are true, but they are non sequiturs.

Moscow is a world-class city and like most world-class cities, it has a very multicultural population with a large intellectual class in the population.  More importantly, if one were to find himself in any provincial location in the world, as I have in the US Deep South or Venezuelan Andes, one would find that people tend to be more homogeneous and less aware and tolerant of other groups.  In other words, "the xenophobe" is not descriptive of Russia; it is descriptive of most places on this planet.

In its 15 April 2010 edition, The Economist published a book review titled "Russia's war against Napoleon: How Russia really won."  The key paragraph of this book review is:
The central point made by Mr Lieven’s witty and impeccably scholarly book is that Russia owed its victory not to the courage of its national spirit or to the coldness of the 1812 winter, as some French sources have argued, but to its military excellence, superior cavalry, the high standards of Russia’s diplomatic and intelligence services and the quality of its European elite. Thanks to the intelligence he obtained, Alexander was able to outwit Napoleon, anticipating his invasion.
The article further makes the point that the victory over Napoleon "demonstrates the strength of Russia’s multi-ethnic empire and the depth of its integration in European affairs and security."

While Moscow is not Russia, a walk around Moscow confirms that Russia is a multi-ethnic society - and has a rather wonderfully pleasant people. 

A More Accurate Depiction of The Russian Society


  1. If you read the comments to this article, you may have noticed a sound point made by some of the commenters about Russia's xenophobe image: Russians are cautious about their friends and allies, because in the past they regulary turned them down - and this cautiousness is frequently interpreted as xenophoby and hostility, which is also understandable. Both Napoleon and Hitler promised not to invade Russia - and then broke all agreements.

    The article itself is remarkable: it is likely to be the fist article related to Russia that contains no anti-Russian remarks - not typical of The Economist nowadays. Could they outsource the reviewer?)

    Tanya, DocTeam