#7 - JRL 7013
January 10, 2003
Russian Identity: from the Baltic to the Pacific
The question of national identity has long troubled thinkers and politicians in many countries. After the heady 1990s, when some states collapsed before our eyes and others created new supra-state structures, the importance of this question became clear. This is particularly so in Russia, part of which - the Kaliningrad Region - found itself effectively torn off from the 'mainland', a situation that could have significantly affected the national consciousness of both Kaliningrad residents and the population of the 'rest' of Russia.
In order to discover exactly what is happening to Russian national identity, at the request of the Moscow office of the Ebert Foundation, the Central Russian Consulting Centre carried out a research project entitled 'Russia from the Baltic to the Pacific Ocean. National characteristics and regional peculiarities in the Russian identity.'
The Kaliningrad and Primorye Regions, which are the furthest apart in Russia, were chosen as the research objects, while the Kirov Region, a typical industrial region in central Russia, was selected as a control region. Rosbalt offers its readers some of the most interesting results from the paper produced as a result of this work.
During the course of the research it became clear that in all three regions young people worry most about war and illnesses affecting their friends and relatives. Young people in Kaliningrad add losing their health, unemployment and poverty to the list of serious concerns. Young people in the Primorye Region are less concerned about unemployment than their contemporaries elsewhere, but more concerned about crime and violence. Our poll also showed that concerns among different generations do not differ much, although those over 40 think more about their health than young people. The sociologists claim that even in such far-flung regions there are more nationwide tendencies in the concerns of those polled than local ones. So, for example, the fear of a region being isolated or overrun by immigrants from other countries consistently occupies 8-10th place in the list of concerns.
Around half of those questioned (43-57%) in each region and age group define themselves as inhabitants of their region. In addition, 25-45% of people see themselves as Russians, and 13% of Kaliningrad residents consider themselves to be Europeans. Residents of the Primorye Region see themselves as Russian less often than residents of the other regions (25-26%), and this is the case even among older generations. On this point, the sociologists note that the prevalence of regional identity over national identity is not a characteristic phenomenon of Kaliningrad residents.
According to residents of both Kaliningrad and the Primorye Region, the most positive aspect of life in their region is the presence of the sea. This factor is mentioned by 59-64% of those questioned in the Primorye Region, and 31-34% in Kaliningrad. Residents of Kaliningrad placed the positive characteristic of their region's proximity to Europe second (22% among older people and 28% among young people). The practical opportunity to frequently visit European countries was appreciated by only 18% of young people and 12.5% of those over 40. Residents of the Primorye Region see the attractiveness of their region exclusively in terms of the presence of the sea. Every fifth young person and 14% of older people in Kaliningrad believe that the standard of living in their region is higher that in Russia on average.
In all three regions, over half of those questioned (54-62%) said that their views generally corresponded to democratic beliefs. Between 38% and 55% of older people hold the same views. However, amongst those over 40, communist beliefs retain a certain level of popularity (16% in the Kaliningrad Region and 23% in the Primorye Region). Nationalist beliefs are held by 10% of young people in the Primorye Region, while, for example, 14.5% of older residents in the Kirov Region have social-democratic beliefs.
Russians could be united by the idea of improving the quality of life (this was named by 33-48% of those polled), which was particularly popular among young residents of Kaliningrad and the Primorye Region (45-48%). A further 29-48% of respondents suggest that the struggle to bring order to the country could become the national idea. The younger generation puts the idea of creating an effective market economy in 3rd/4th place, while very 4th or 5th respondent believes that Russia could be united by the idea of its renascence as a strong, respected world power.
Interestingly, an absolute majority of those questioned see themselves as Russian patriots, with the highest figure among residents of the country's most western region, Kaliningrad (63-68%). Only 13-18% of respondents do not regard themselves as patriots, with the proportion of these slightly higher among young people than those over 40. Love of the motherland, faith in Russia's future, and a willingness to take up arms to defend Russia were singled out as the main signs of patriotism. 16-24% of those polled believe that being proud of the fact that you are a citizen of a great country is a sign of patriotism.
It was established that residents of all three regions see the main problem in their locality as the low level of wages. Respondents also spoke a lot about the problem of unemployment, but rarely mentioned the lack of facilities for leisure activities and the lack of opportunity to receive their desired education.
For residents of Kaliningrad, one of the main troubling issues is their remoteness and detachment from Russia, which is second in importance after the problem of low wages. The forthcoming entry of Lithuania and Poland into the European Union is not currently seen by Kaliningrad residents as a serious problem (only 15% of young people and 12% of the older generation mentioned this). For Kaliningrad's youth the most important issues at the time of the research were lack of accommodation (23%), unemployment (21%) and the rise in crime (19%), and for the older generation these were the rise in crime (21%) and the spread of alcoholism and drug use in the region (18%).
In the Primorye Region people are more concerned than residents of the other regions about the provision of modern services, amenities and basic needs, and unemployment (25% of young people and 28% of those over 40). Residents of the Primorye Region, especially young residents, also worry more than others about the dominance of immigrants from other countries (24.5% of young people and 20% of older people).
It is interesting that the hopes of residents of all three regions for solving these problems rest not so much on their regional administrations, as on federal interference - by the president and the government. In the Kaliningrad Region 42% of young people and 36% of older people are pinning their hopes on help from the federal centre, while 1.5-2 times fewer are relying on the local authorities. Residents of the Primorye Region have a little more faith in their regional authorities - roughly one in five. In all the regions young people have more hopes of the president than older people. In the Kaliningrad Region 13-15% of people are hoping for help in solving their problems from European countries, while in the Primorye Region only 4-5% of those polled are counting on help from neighbouring China and Japan.
Assessing the development prospects of their region, 30-36% of Kaliningrad residents said that their region would develop successfully. 22-33% of Primorye residents are also full of optimism, whereas only 12-29% of residents of the Kirov Region are optimistic. The overwhelming majority of residents of the Kaliningrad and Kirov Regions do not want to leave their regions, but in the Primorye Region half of respondents would be ready to leave if the opportunity arose.
Moscow is the most attractive destination for potential migrants (15-24% of those polled). Residents of the Kaliningrad Region named a full 15 countries they would like to leave for, but half would prefer to go to Germany, a quarter to the US, 10% to Poland, and 5% to Israel. Kaliningrad residents most definitely do not want to go to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. Residents of the Primorye Region would like to emigrate to the US (22%), Australia (21%), Canada (9%), Germany (8%), Japan (7%) or New Zealand (7.5%). However, over the last few years 31-33% of young people and 41-45% of older people from the Primorye and Kirov Regions have not traveled out of their respective regions, compared to only 21-22% of Kaliningrad residents.
In reply to the question of what Russia should do in connection with the Kaliningrad problem, respondents in all three regions most often expressed the desire that Russia adopt a hard line, and what's more, the residents of the Kirov Region, living far from any borders, were more radical than even the Kaliningrad residents themselves (35.7-40.9% and 26-30.6% of those questioned respectively). The second most popular answer was to create a transport corridor (7-33%); the most unattractive option for Russians was to give Kaliningrad special status (0-5.9%).
Every fourth resident of the Kirov and Primorye Regions suggests that Russia should not involve itself at all in the process of European integration nor take any steps to prevent Lithuania or Poland from moving closer to the EU, since Russia already has quite enough domestic problems to deal with. But among Kaliningrad residents only 6% of young people and 8% of the older generation share this position.
The poll showed that residents of the Kaliningrad Region regard CIS countries, especially Belarus, as the most friendly, as well as neighbouring European countries, especially Germany and Poland. In the Primorye Region, residents do not highlight CIS countries, but mention Japan and China. Residents of the Kirov Region see Belarus, Germany, and the CIS countries as being the most friendly towards Russia, and the older generation mentions China as well. All three regions placed the US first among countries unfriendly towards Russia (27.4-49%). This category also included Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, China, Georgia and: Chechnya (in the opinion of Primorye residents).
On the whole, the research showed that the residents of all three regions, which are so different and far apart, are ideologically very similar, despite all the differences that exist between them. They have the same thoughts regarding a uniting, national idea, and they have an almost identical understanding of the notion of patriotism and the 'Kaliningrad problem'. Although the residents of these western, central and eastern regions have different problems, they all count on the federal centre for help, which is another indicator of their shared identity.
In any case, it is clear that citizens of the Russia Federation, who live thousands of kilometres apart and, most likely, have never met each other, are united by the simple fact that they belong to the same state.
Prepared by Vera Heifets, Rosbalt News Agency Translated by Robin Jones