On Tolerance
Valery Tishkov
Tishkov is Head of the Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He received an HFG grant for research on ethnic nationalism during and after the Soviet Union. In 1992 he served in the Kremlin as a Minister of Nationalities. This paper is excerpted from a report written in preparation for an international conference on "Tolerance, Mutual Understanding and Accord" in Yakutsk, Russia in June of 1995, sponsored by UNESCO.

1 | 2 | back to TOC

Due to the low level of civic culture, backward social studies and the low quality of political conduct, the society and the state in Russia have failed to come up with appropriate answers to the challenges of nationalism and extremism. A neo-Bolshevik mentality in the Russian intelligentsia, which continues to play the overblown role of "engineers of human souls," proved capable of offering the very same strategy of "no compromise," searching out and suppressing manifestations of extremism, as in the Soviet past. Or, on the contrary, the radical and democratic intelligentsia make common cause with armed separatism, manipulated by ambitious leaders. They present such separatism as a legitimate form of popular will and self-determination. Both reactions have provoked defensive aggressiveness, provided unjustified publicity for marginal groups and psychopathic individuals, and fostered recruiting of new adherents and activists of extremism. Intolerance to intolerance produces new intolerance.

The state has failed to come up with effective policy in the sphere of regulating ethnic relations. Instead of introducing the formula "unity in diversity," encouraging local initiative and self-government and supporting territorial and cultural autonomy, central and regional republican authorities continue to waste their powers on furthering obviously ineffective state programs of "supporting and developing" the peoples and cultures in Russia. The state continues to divide its citizens according to their nationality, and the Soviet practice of determining ethnic identity by the sole principle of blood relations has not been abolished. Russian citizens are exclusively attributed to this or that culture and connected rigidly with official categories of "their own" or "not their own" territory and statehood. Support for cultural diversity on the collective and individual levels and the rights of the individual is replaced by the division of people according to their belonging to some collective bodies called "ethnos" and endowing them with rights depending on this belonging. This leads to tension among individuals and groups, to intolerance and alienation.

From the beginning of the Chechen crisis in Russia, and even earlier in the countries of Central Asia, the Transcaucasus, and Moldova, a dangerous doctrine of the legitimate right of the state authorities to use violent coercion, including internal use of army, without the appropriate system of legislative and public control, has been evident. The legislative right of the state to use violence is expanded to mean the right of a public official to use weapons on a large scale either for purely political purposes or for suppression of armed groups and self-proclaimed local regimes. Instead of the policy of persuasion, negotiation, isolation, and limitation of access to weapons, often the focus is put on uncompromising dictate and victorious war. This results in the escalation of violence, aggravation of the conflict, mass victims and destruction. All this is accompanied by attempts to dehumanize the adversary, spreading hatred among the population, and violating all norms of waging a war, with shameful cases of marauding and hostage-taking. The high price paid for retreating to state coercion turns out to be disproportionate to the goals declared. And these goals themselves, as a rule, are unaccomplished. We may recall that Bertrand Russell, at the end of the last century, said "Establishment of freedom seemed a sufficiently noble motive to justify violence. Violence appeared when the time came, but freedom was lost at some point in the course of events." Such an option does not seem to be ruled out for the post-totalitarian societies of the late 20th century.

Armed state violence grows into wars between states or generates hotbeds of guerilla resistance. These situations become objects of geopolitical speculation, complicate international situations, worsen the foreign image of post-Soviet states, and revive the mentality and politics of the Cold War.

In the contemporary interrelated world, tolerance cannot exist on the level of isolated societies: economic and humanitarian connections, geopolitical interests, migrations of peoples and diasporas, wars and conflicts, cultural dialogue--all this determines a particular international and regional climate of tolerance and some general approaches to the norms which affect situations in specific states. Certain priorities, guidelines, and even demands are formulated by international and regional organizations of states, international non-governmental organizations, as well as international declarations and legal norms. In recent times the UN, UNESCO, and other structures and movements have made an important contribution in the development of general approaches and recommendations. The global idea of the culture of peace was put forth, and the declaration of the principles of tolerance is underway. Post-Soviet states, including Russia, have become part of this important process.

Today, after long political and ideological isolation and confrontation, the time seems to be right for the involvement of this part of the world in the common process of establishing cooperation and concord between nations and states. A favorable international climate and international support for the difficult transformations that totalitarian societies have to go through to become democratic are necessary preconditions for the actions of adherents of openness and tolerance in Russia and other countries of the former USSR. Any new isolation or "Cold Peace" creates the opportunity for opponents of democratization and propagandists of hypothetical "conspiracies against Russia" to disseminate suspicion and hostility towards the external world. Internal public tolerance in post-Soviet states may be established only in the event of external openness, where the development of all sorts of contacts and information about the broad and diverse world is fostered.

The transition to democracy calls for the combination of the two concepts--ethnic traditions and the experience of internal cultural interaction combined with a more comprehensive knowledge about the external world and international norms. Qualified legal aid, expertise, educational programs and other assistance from the world community, especially the well-developed western states, are necessary and will be welcomed by local politicians and populations.

Tolerance in Russia requires tolerance with respect to Russia and, first of all, understanding of its domestic situation and the sentiments of its people. No matter how difficult the road to the establishment of the new society, acts of revenge by former warriors of the Cold War and those representatives of the diaspora who in the past invested their emotions and energy into struggle against communism are counterproductive.

Western politicians and mass media quite often formulate images of new "threats" and create unjustifiably negative stereotypes of Russia. Notorious campaigns about "Russian mafia," "Russian fascism," nuclear smuggling, and ubiquitous crime cause the western public to revive fear and distrust and have a negative effect on the development of humanitarian contacts. In many cases the post-Soviet world remains an outcast in the world community, an object of condescending attitude, unilateral demands and double standards. Lack of external tolerance and respect in these countries may hinder the establishment of internal tolerance and self-respect. Then the time of arrogant force and universal intolerance may come again. Hopefully, such a time will not come.

1 | 2 | back to TOC

© 2011 || The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation