My Moscow friend, fellow dissertator, and all around potty-mouth, Brigid has started a blog, Laughter in the Dark, all about her research travels. Her first post about her train ride from St. Petersburg to Smolensk is a must read. Here is an excerpt:
Over the next five hours, I would learn that the old man was 85 years old, a WWII veteran who had fought in the battle of Stalingrad, a man who still pined for Lenin (though not for Stalin), a devout atheist, and a living repository of Soviet history. None of us ever learned his name; the other men just referred to him as “grandfather.” Volodia, from Nizhnii Novgorod, was quiet in the face of his conversational competitors, and proved (for now) the least uppity in our bunch. He was traveling to Smolensk to meet a colleague and loved to watch birds from his country home on the Volga. That – and practice his English in a random chance encounter with an American. The third, Alexsei, was a true character who regaled us all with stories of his times in Israel, New York, Germany, and of course, Russia. For five and a half hours, Aleksei and “grandfather” argued tax reform, food preservatives, the holocaust, America, and the Bible (“Who wrote it?” grandfather asked. “I was twenty-five years old before I ever saw an icon, and I can’t say that I’ve ever read a line of the Bible. I don’t understand it. In our house, we had a portrait of Lenin.”) I was dragged into conversation on a number of accounts, and at one point, “grandfather” declared that he was converting to vegetarianism on account of the testimony of my “pretty face.” I was also dragged into drinking cognac and into answering on behalf of my country for what they referred to as all the “revolutions” that George Bush is trying to buy with American money in former Soviet space. In the usual turn of events, none of my comrades could begin to understand how my husband would “allow” me to travel in Russia (or anywhere, presumably) alone. In the usual turn of events, my dissertation topic provoked shock, awe, confusion, and serious doubts (although Volodia was thoroughly supportive of it). In an unusual turn of events, I returned from the restroom at one point only to hear from Aleksei that in my absence they had decided I was a spy. Grandfather quickly informed me: “I don’t think you’re a spy, and told these two just that, so don’t look at me.” Aleksei had an extra sprinkle of mischief in his eyes, and Volodia was looking sheepish and extra shy. I laughed and joked along, “yes, yes, of course I am a spy.” Volodia shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
According to current estimates there are 20 to 30 million Russians speaking peoples living outside of
. Before the collapse of the Russia Soviet Unionan estimated 30 million lived in CIS and Baltic nations. Currently the largest Russian community lives in , with 8.3 million identifying themselves as Russian, while another 14.3 call Russian their mother tongue. Ukraine Kazakhstan(4.1 million), Belarus(1.2 million) and (1 million) are also CIS nations with large Russian populations. Uzbekistan
The CIS is not the only place in the world Russians reside. There is an estimated 5 to 9 million living in countries outside the CIS. This number includes the some 12 million that left between 1917 and 1991 and their descendants. The largest communities exist in
Germany(about 3 million), the United States(2.9 million) and (1.2 million). Since 1991, 1.2 million Russians have migrated outside the CIS. Israel
Given the numerical and geographical scope of the Russian speaking diaspora, how do Russians fair outside of
? Russians’ assimilation into the places where they immigrate has been a tough going. In states like Russia , which has been one of the main destinations for Russian Jews in the last decade, they find themselves excluded, if not despised. Sometimes this exclusion is self imposed. This has produced a variety of responses that are indicative of the global problems migration/immigration engenders. Israel
Over the last 15 years, Russians have been on the move. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, estimates figure that 13 to 17 million have returned to
. This process is a good sign to the Kremlin, as it gives incentives to educated and skilled Russians to move back to their motherland, and more importantly settle in the skill starved regions. However, this task, as the Putin government is discovering, is not easy. Filling the regions in qualified and competent people has been a historical problem in Russia . In Soviet times transfer to the periphery was seen as informal exile. And given the dearth of qualified cadres in the center, party bosses were equally reluctant to send their best people. In fact, one can point to Khrushchev’s downfall as one example of bureaucratic resistance to living in the sticks. When Khrushchev proposed to send Gosplan bureaucrats to work closer to where production actually took place, it was Khrushchev who found himself out of a job. Russia
Still, one cannot blame the Kremlin for not trying. It hopes to recruit 100,000 people next year. Incentives, like those being offered in Tver oblast, include benefits and jobs that pay 25,000 rubles a month. The Kremlin has dumped around 17 billion rubles into the program. Getting it to bear fruit will require the long haul and impatience is already making some declare it a failure. For example,
oblast was willing to accept 10,000 migrants, but only 596 applied for migration. Kaliningrad
One problem is that CIS countries with large Russian communities, like
Kazakhstanand , recognize their value and are engaging in their own campaigns to discourage Russian technicians and engineers from leaving. One source reported to Kommersant, “Kazakhs got indignant and commissioned articles in the press with slogans like ‘We won’t let it happen!’ The same thing with Ukraine . Local officials made it clear to us that the outflow of Russians from Ukraine is undesirable. For instance, the Ukrainian East is not happy that we are encroaching on their tank specialists and employees of secret military machinery building plants.” Ukraine
The social, political, and cultural impact of the Russian diasporas in these nations is readily felt and have required those states to consider them in their post-Soviet identity. The political strength of Russians in eastern
is well known. But in Ukraine , for example, as the political scientist/history Ronald Suny noted in an article in the December 2001 issue of Journal of Modern History, the creation of a post-Soviet Kazakh national identity had to consider the large Russian population. Radical Kazakh nationalists’ calls for making Kazakh the official language as well as rejecting all forms of Russification were negotiated with the real difficulties in alienating half the population. Thus, Kazakh national identity was more civic than ethnic, and therefore more inclusive than exclusive. Kazakhstan
While many Russians are moving back to their homeland, many, especially Russian Jews, are opting to immigrate. The long history of anti-Semitism and the
Soviet Union’s restrictions against immigration has prevented many from resettling in the Jewish state. This all changed when the Soviet Union collapsed, and many Russian Jews cited ’s “law of return” to immigrate. Russian Jews, who had suppressed their Jewish identity for so long, were suddenly “born again.” Others simply claimed Jewish lineage no matter how diluted it was. Still others piggybacked on Jewish spouses and stepparents. About 1 million Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel since 1991. Israel has a total population of around 7 million, making Russians a sizable portion, not to mention raising innumerable questions about cultural assimilation, politics, and the demographic character of the Israeli state. Israel
The Russian diaspora is the subject of The Pilgrim Soul: Being a Russian in Israel a new book by Tel Aviv University English Literature professor Ilana Gomel. Unfortunately, the book is written in Hebrew, and I must rely on a recent review by Yulia Lerner in Haaretz for its content. Hopefully the book will be translated into English or Russian. The book argues that the Russian Jewish experience in
is pretty much one where, to quote Marx, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Meaning, that how Russian Israelis weave themselves into Israeli society is very much a reflection of their particularly “dark history” in the Soviet/post- Israel Soviet Union. Lerner writes,
This historic “past,” as we see from
‘s book, bears down on the Russian Jews with special intensity. History never leaves them alone. It sits on their shoulders like a lead weight. But more than that, it decides everything for them – what they buy in the supermarket, how they pray, make love and dress, and, of course, how they vote. According to Gomel Gomel, ‘s dark history explains everything that the Russian immigrants do. It guides their thinking, their dietary habits and their fashion choices here in the new Russia Middle East. Throughout the book, the author uses this history to explain all the “Russian peculiarities” in : the prostitution phenomenon; attitudes toward the body and sex; interpersonal relationships and social behavior; love of math and science; Islamophobia; right-wing politics; a penchant for conspiracy theories; and finally an obsession with witch-hunts, a symptom of the Russian traitor syndrome. You come away with the impression that the Russians have some mysterious device for transmitting history from one generation to the next. Israel
If Lerner’s evaluation of
’s book is correct, such historical determinism leaves a bitter taste. Not only is such an analysis steeped in stereotypes and essentialism, it also forever relegates Russians to position of eternally outside Israeli society. It is no surprise that many Israelis already believe that Russian Jews’ Russianness has tainted their Jewishness beyond repair. Gomel
But such a book, however distasteful is foundational analytic might be, points to a much larger problem of how immigrant communities, even those who are the same “ethnicity” or “race” integrate into communities of cultural difference. There is enough historical evidence based on the American experience of Jews, Italians, and Irish to suggest that this process of assimilation occurs by means of a simultaneous shedding and rejection. As the Irish discovered in 19th century
, they had to embrace race for the sake of their ethnicity. This meant shedding much of their Irishness, while fully embracing ideology of whiteness that was predicated on racism toward blacks. As Hegel suggested, we discovery our identity through the recognition of the Other. America
Israeli Russians are finding their Other in the form of the Arab, specifically the Palestinian. Russians are strong supporters of right wing parties. The head of Israel Beytenu, one of
’s far right political parties is Avigdor Liberman, who is himself a Russian immigrant. Currently, Liberman is second with 15% to Benjamin Netanyahu’s 27% to replace Ehud Olmert as Israeli Prime Minister. There is not doubt that as the right surges after the Lebanon War debacle, Russians will place a decisive electoral role. Israel
But Russians’ political role in
goes beyond electoral politics. They are vital to the reproduction of Israel itself. In the 1990s, Russian immigration was seen by Israeli officials as a demographic bulwark to the Palestinians. They also served as replacement labor when Israel decided to purge Palestinian cheap labor from its work force. In addition, as many Russians occupy settlements that encroach on the Israel West Bank, their survival becomes inevitably linked with the Palestinians further oppression. This “offshore Zionism” as Gadi Algazi describes the settlement of Modi‘in Illit, which is located three miles east of the Green Line, is a “colonization process [that] is
built not just on capitalist expansion but on social misery and poor people’s pressing needs, just as the separation wall is built on fears, real and imagined, amplified by daily propaganda. It draws in young couples from the slums of
Jerusalemand enrolls new immigrants from the Russian Federation, who may find themselves sent to settle Ariel, for example, in the heart of the West Bank; large ultra-orthodox families too, gain access to subsidized housing only by joining the settlement project. All these can find themselves defending the occupation in order to defend the fragile social existence they have built for themselves under the guidance of government authorities, the settler movement and private capital.
Things however can go the opposite way, producing some of the most unlikely phenomena. Take the appearance of racist skinheads in
. In June, the Guardian UK and Haaretz reported that the Israeli government was looking into the website of one group called the White Israeli Union. The WIU is presumed to be run by Russian immigrants. But how do you explain Israeli skinheads? Especially when their website pictures a youth in an IDF uniform, saluting Hitler and calling for the killing of Arabs and Jews? It would seem to defy all logic. Or does it? Israel
I think that the existence of Israeli skins is a testament for the fact that many Russian youths do feel outside Jewish society. After all, it is not uncommon for Russians to live in ghettos, and even though they may go into Israeli institutions like the school and the army and learn Hebrew, it doesn’t mean they are fully accepted as Israeli. Take for example, the conversation Lerner opens her review of The Pilgrim Soul with,
“Do you have Russian friends?” I asked [a colleague]. No, he replied. “Are there any Russians at the parties and gatherings you go to?” No, he replied. “Have you ever had a Russian girlfriend?” Again he said no. “But to tell you the truth,” he added, “when I meet a girl, it doesn’t matter how pretty she is. The minute I hear a Russian accent, her beauty diminishes by half.”
Part of the problem is, as Gumel’s book seems to suggest, Russians are viewed as Other in
, though a wholly different kind of Other than the Arab. Another problem is that Otherness is maintained by Russians themselves. So for youth who are outside Israeli society becoming a skinhead becomes the ultimate refusal of a society that also rejects you. Israel
As Dick Hebdige argued in his seminal study Subculture: the Meaning of Style, refusal of the hegemonic culture is the function subcultures. Skinheads are no different in this regard even though their refusal is frequently coupled with violence. This is not to soften the very real anti-Semitism existing in the Jewish nation. Skinheads have already attacked Orthodox Jews and defaced synagogues and cemeteries. My point is to suggest that the problem runs much deeper than one having racist views; it is in part central to immigration itself.
There is no indication that Russian immigration/migration is going to end anytime soon. After all, there is nothing particularly Russian about it. As Mike Davis notes in his book, Planet of Slums, populations are on the move more than ever before and often it’s for reasons that defy the traditional push-pull factors many historians, sociologists, geographers and demographers have given. Rather he argues the “clash of civilizations” is not between East and West, Christianity and Islam. It is between the disenfranchised masses of immigrants/migrants who must eek out a new life among inhabitants who feel they are encroaching on their way of life and diluting, if not infecting, their culture, national identity, and well being.Post Views: 57
By Sean — 11 years ago
In my younger days, I used to hang out with a group of SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) skinheads from El Monte, California. We used to go to clubs, drink, share our appreciation for punk and ska music, and our mutual hatred for racist skinheads. SHARPs came in a variety of political shades. Some were self-identified communists, socialists and anarchists. Others, at least the ones I befriended, were Latino youths who, instead of getting mixed up in traditional gangs, gravitated to a more political variant. They would get into street fights with racist skinheads or would vandalize known skinheads’ houses and cars. They were a rough bunch. I remember one night after clubbing, a bunch of them went searching for a local Armenian gang with baseball bats and steel pipes in hand. That night, the Armenians beat up one of their comrades and they were looking to extract some revenge.
Years later, I had another friend, a socialist and pacifist, who used to be a SHARP in
. In the 1980s and 1990s, Fontana, California was known as a hotbed of Klan and skinhead activity. One day I asked him why he got out of it. He told me that, every SHARP he was friends with was now in prison for assault, vandalism or other crimes. But his conversion away from SHARP was much more personal. He told me that one night at a party, a racist skinhead pulled a gun on him and his girlfriend. Thankfully, neither he nor his girlfriend was harmed, but the incident provided him much reflection. He realized that despite their antithetical political views, he and the racists were no different. Violence made them an inverted reflection of each other. Fontana
Still, knowing the different between fascist and anti-fascist skins can be a matter of life or death. How do you tell the difference? After all, both have shaved heads and wear bomber jackets, Dr. Marten boots, and jeans. So how do you tell? Look at their shoe laces. If they are red, they are anti-fascist. White means fascist. Other symbols might give you clues. Pins, patches and tattoos were other symbolic markers for where they stand.
I was reminded of all this while I was reading Il’ia Donskii’s article “I Recognize My Love by the Stripes: What Differentiates Fascists from Anti-Fascists? Almost Nothing,” in this week’s Novaya Gazeta. Donskii notes that the differences between Russian facist and anti-facsist youth are so slight and symbolic that they are virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. They look the same: jeans, bomber jackets, and combat boots. Sometimes they even can’t tell the difference between each other:
Take for example the fight after the Nekondishn concert at the club “Archeology” on 15 September 2006. Then two guys (probably young Nazis) were severely beaten and received multiple stab wounds. As usual, the authorities at first accused anti-fascists of the crime. Then because there were several incontrovertible contradictions (first, anti-fascists never use knives, and second the attackers cried, “Death to anti-fascists!”), the Nazis themselves recognized that it was a misunderstanding and one right wing gang attacked the other. Dmitrii Demushkin, the leader of the openly fascist organization “Slavic Union” (usually abbreviated SS) spoke about this and added, “No one can tell the difference because the clothes are all the same–fascist or anti-fascist. They simply kill.”
Donskii explains that the difference between Russian fascist and anti-fascist youth is literally in the numbers. Fascists love the number “8” because in the Latin alphabet, the letter “h” is the the eighth letter. So “88” means “Heil Hitler”. “18”–Adolph Hitler, and “14” stands for the Nazi slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.”
But not all self-identified Nazi skins know about the substance of “14” or really anything about Nazi ideology. “14” is just a symbol to identify themselves. There is even a word for these ideologically ignorant–Karlans. These are usually fascists younger than 16 new to the skinhead subculture. But be sure, they may not know the intricacies of fascist thought, but they do know the symbols that differentiate themselves from the anti-fascists. The problem is that these symbols of difference work best when the skins travel in packs. The mistake the two Nazis above made was not traveling in the group.
Anti-fascists play their own symbols game. Many wear red handkerchiefs or shoelaces, just like my SHARP friends, to denote left wing or anti-fascism. And while their fascist enemies like the number “8”, they like “46”–“destroy fascism” and “69”–“Remember the spirit of 69”, that is 1969, when the skinhead movement was founded in Britain. Many forget that skinheads were originally anti-racist and heavily influenced by the black Caribbean communities in London.
What is facsinating about all of this is that while Donskii, you, I and many others may see the differences as “almost nothing”, they are in fact enormous. Wearing red shoelaces means life or death, depending who you come upon first. But despite the enormity in meaning, the minutia of difference can sometimes produce a disorientating symbolic cacophony even among its practitioners.
Post Views: 41
By Sean — 12 years ago
Opposition parties are struggling to keep momentum going in Azerbaijan. The results of the recent Azeri parliamentary elections left the 125 seat legislature in control of the ruling Yeni Party. The Opposition received only 10 seats and claim that the elections were rife with fraud, a claim that has been supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. There is no doubt that this is true, but it seems that the Opposition’s hopes of staging its own “Orange Revolution” are fading. Despite yesterday’s presence of 15,000 supporters in a protest against the elections, the crowd was thinner than the initial protests a week ago.
One problem it seems is that the Opposition does not have the will to risk a government crackdown on demonstrators. This lack of will has the potential to alienate and disillusion younger radicals who want to take more direct action. As one Azeri journalist named Shain Abbasov, told Radio Free Europe (RFE):
“The opposition leadership are trying to operate at least until 26 November, when the CEC [Central Election Commission] should announce the official results of the elections, they are going to operate exactly within the law. So, no unsanctioned rallies, no clashes with the police, etc. They remember their experience in 2003 elections, when Isa Gambar [Ed. an opposition leader who lost against Ilham Aliyev in the presidential election] moved his supporters to the streets and then they were cracked down. . . Young people want to stay at the square [in central Baku] after the next rally, to put up tents, to put [up] orange tents, to repeat the Ukrainian events, as they call them. So, stay and attract more attention of the Western international community to falsification and maybe provoke police violence. They want [a] more radical struggle. They think the carefulness of the leadership will help the government confirm the falsified results.”
Such a clash of generations can be death to an opposition movement. Many Azeri youths understand the vital role their Ukrainian and Georgian counterparts played in forcing their “revolutions.” It appears that Azeri youth organizations are ready to fight. As Murad Hasanli, a spokesperson for the main opposition bloc, Azadlyq (Freedom), told RFE.
“If you look at what happened in Georgia and Ukraine, it was the youth movements that provided the catalysts for political change. They were the foot soldiers of the revolution — and the opposition has recognized that here in Azerbaijan, and from early on began to engage with young people, and a whole plethora of youth organizations has developed in Azerbaijan very quickly. We had Yeni Fikir (New Idea), Maqam (Opportunity), Yokh (No!). Some of them were single-issue organizations, some were broader political movements and they did engage the young people.”
At the same time, young Azeri activists should learn yet another lesson from their Ukrainian counterparts: Revolution does not mean automatic changes. Sometimes it simply means putting the other guy in power.
This is a feeling settling in on the first anniversary of the “orange revolution.” The Moscow Times reports a deep sense of dissatisfaction among those who come from afar to join Viktor Yushchenko and his orange believers. One such believer is Natalya Simonenko, a 26 year old business woman from Odessa. Now a year later she tells the Times of deep disappointment, “I was one of the few in Odessa to support Yushchenko; I traveled to Kiev to demonstrate. I used to argue with my family and my neighbors who supported Yanukovych. I wanted the country to change, but after a year I see that nothing has, corruption is still high, and the oligarchs are still running things.”
Even members of Pora (It’s Time), the youth group that occupied tents for weeks in freezing weather, have taken Yushchenko’s backtracking as a signal to extend their political participation. Pora has since split into two wings. One, black Pora, is focused on being a pressure group and committed to staging demonstrations. The other, yellow Pora, looks to run candidates in next March’s parliamentary elections. Such a move shows that Pora activists will not simply be the “shock troops” for their father’s political party. They are seeking independence to assert their own political agenda. As the head of black Pora, Nadya Prudyak, 24, reminded the Times,
“Much of the old system we were fighting has remained. We were fighting not because we liked Yushchenko but because we hoped for big political changes. We wanted to get rid of the players of Kuchma’s era, but nothing has changed.”
Pora in the Ukraine. The National Bolsheviks in Russia. Emerging youth organizations in Azerbaijan. Something is in the air in the CIS in regard to youth politics. While all of these groups, and the many others within these countries vying for influence, share different views, all of them see extra-parliamentary, and in some cases, extra-legal means to achieve political change. And as the Ukrainian case shows, even despite the disillusionment that has followed, youth organizations do play a very powerful rule in this change. After all who else but young people can spend days, even weeks, holed up in the tent in the freezing temperatures? Who else but youth risk their bodies against the bludgeon of police batons? Who else but youth are on the barricades of social change? The naivet? of the ruling parties, whether they are the “opposition” or not is that they think these young people are merely their political pawns. Youth are merely bodies to be mobilized for instrumental purposes. But political experience breeds consciousness. Coming out into the streets en mass gives an immense feeling of collective power. The youth in the CIS know the power they have and could have. The question remains is whether they will take it for themselves.Post Views: 37