THE HFG REVIEW OF RESEARCH (Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1996)
THE POLITICS OF VIOLENCE

On Tolerance
Valery Tishkov

The new Russia cannot be included in the category of states where open discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities exists. All ethnic groups are recognized by the state, as are their rights to preserve their culture and integrity. Most non-Russian ethnic groups have the high status of territorial autonomies in the areas of their main settlement. The complex composition of the population is sufficiently reflected in federal representative branches of government. The establishment of true federalism, including its asymmetrical forms, reflects the tolerant nature of the very doctrine of the state system in the Russian Federation and its constitutional basis. A complex search is underway for new legislative norms which will further guarantee the rights of the citizens who belong to ethnic, language, and religious minorities. Despite the difficulties of the transformational process, some clear accomplishments in the cultural and educational spheres of the last decades are being sustained.

Despite relatively low living standards, Russia, like the majority of other post-Soviet states, is not one of the regions of mass social deprivation which serve as fertile soil for intolerance and violence. A high degree of social egalitarianism and the lack of mass poverty (with the exception of some rural areas in the Central Asian states) have been preserved, and the systems of social welfare and social guarantees are operational. At the same time, the surviving inertia of Communist doctrine and existing social practice, based on primitive collectivism and the denial of the importance of the individual, produce intolerance to healthy individualism, private property and entrepreneurship, personal success, and prosperity. Many people, especially of the older generation and other vulnerable groups (both psychologically and in the sense of material well-being), turned out to be unprepared to face radical changes and together with them to accept new values and opportunities. This causes alienation and discontent among a considerable part of society, manifests itself in social and political conduct, and brings about depression, despair and hatred.

The proponents of liberalization and profound social reforms have faced the problem of how to ensure their harmonious administration. Tolerance and radical changes turned out to be incompatible in many senses: the former is based on acceptance and non-interference; the latter are based on denying the status quo and the establishment of new and other orders.

Those successful in business turn out to be incapable of self-limitation, civic solidarity and respect for others. Those now in authority demonstrate intolerance to their predecessors and defiant self-assurance, disregard for laws, personal greed and indiscretion.

Radical and intolerant ethno-nationalism is the most serious challenge for Russia and a number of post-Soviet states. National movements among the peoples of the former USSR in peaceful political and cultural forms have played and continue to play an important role in establishing decentralized political systems and administration, in preservation and development of the cultural integrity and "distinctiveness" of large and small nations, and in the growth of the people's social and political activity. However, in a number of cases the ethnic factor has become the basis for formulating programs and actions and propagating ideas and attitudes which provoke intolerance and cause conflicts and violence.

Negative consequences of the policy of former regimes with respect to non-dominant groups and minorities have persisted, and new problems resulting from economic and political liberalization and geopolitical changes have emerged. So far the policy of cultural pluralism has not established itself in Russia. State bureaucracies tend to ignore the interests and rights of small groups who live in difficult environments and maintain traditional systems of life. Information and education systems on the state level fail to reflect adequately the cultural diversity of the peoples of Russia and the tolerant perception of different traditions and values.

As a reaction to the past humiliating status of non-Russian cultures, under the conditions of social crisis, political desalinization and poor modernization, the nationalism of small nations has often taken aggressive forms such as attempts to usurp power and prestigious positions in favor of the representatives of a certain ethnic group, to change the demographic composition of the population by means of discrimination or forcible banishment of ethnic "strangers," to alter administrative or state borders, and to secede "de facto" without prior negotiations, including by means of arms. Extreme nationalism offers resolutions that seem simple on the surface but are in fact unrealistic. Attempts to exercise them bring about civil tensions and conflicts. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhasia and Chechnya, nationalism has been one of the main causes of the most brutal wars on the territory of the former USSR.

Growing nationalism of the hegemonist type, which is formulated on behalf of numerically dominant groups, poses no less a threat to democratic reforms and social peace. In Russia, Russian nationalism is seeking the status of state ideology, trying to appropriate the idea of pan-Russian patriotism and to replace the process of nation-building with the very same slogan of self-determination--now of the Russian ethno-nation, which likewise cannot be realized. Increasingly, extremist groups and individuals propagate fascist ideas, anti-Semitism and disregard for minorities. Exalted rhetoric about the "dying" or "dismemberment" of the Russian nation serves strictly political purposes and seriously complicates the political and social situation within the country and its relations with neighboring states. This form of nationalism is also brought about by social crisis, political and ideological disorientation, and the negative effects of profound geopolitical transformations, but all this does not make it less dangerous.

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.


Valery 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.

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