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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Riots highlight need for Russia to define itself

Moscow Rioters with Flares Near KremlinThe recent riots offered yet more proof that Russia still has not come to terms with what or who it is ­ a debate that has been simmering since the country's foundation.

Nationalists screamed "Russia for Russians" as they fought people from the North Caucasus, which is part of the Russian Federation.

This is a clear sign that many people ­ and not just xenophobes, racists, and nationalists ­ have not come to terms with the country's identity following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia's confused, and often absent, national identity poses serious problems for the country, in particular the recent riots, and society quickly needs to foster a healthy form of nationalism.

Many will argue that nationalism is inherently bad, but it is crucial to forming a working state and democracy. If the people cannot decide who they are, then how can they choose who will represent them, or even what they represent?

It is a fact that democracy has never been formed without something close to a coherent nation.

The recent violence should now be the catalyst for holding the crucial debate about what makes someone a Russian.

Even the language, which many would argue is a key part of a nation's make-up, is confused about who Russians are. There are two words; deals with citizens of the Russian Federation irrespective of ethnicity, whereas refers to someone ethnically Russian.

The type of nationalism which differentiates people by race is a dangerous form, and exactly that which has been allowed to fester eventually exploding into the violence on Moscow's streets.

Vladimir Putin, after his shot at the liberal opposition, made exactly this point; that being Russian should be a "civic" rather than an "ethnic" thing.

"Everyone has to understand that we are all children of the same country, so that a man from the Caucasus should not be scared to go out to Moscow streets, and Slavic people shouldn't be afraid to live in the Caucasus," the prime minister said in his Q & A session on Thursday. "We have a common motherland. Russia has been a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic state."

The government now needs to take the lead in starting the debate about what being Russian means, something that should have started in 1991, when the country was described as the corridor in a communal apartment.

Ideally, this should be about believing in what is best for your fellow people, democracy and human rights, regardless of where someone was born, their blood or the colour of their skin.

If you live by these ideals, then the people should welcome you into their nation ­ but society needs to start changing for this to happen.

The US is a brilliant example because it shows some of the beauty of civic pride and nationalism, but equally has a history of its worst traits.

The vast majority of Americans believe in the country's ideology and its constitution to the extent that school children say an almost pompous pledge of allegiance every morning.

It is a country of immigrants, but the majority are willing to attach American to their nationality while preserving their heritage.

Even African-Americans do this, despite slavery, the Jim Crow Laws and persecution against them ­ some of the most despicable treatment of people simply due to ethnicity.

While the treatment of African-Americans, the Japanese during World War 2 and growing prejudice against Mexicans make it an imperfect example, the ideal is something Russia should follow.

The old battles of ethnicity are still raging, but now is the time to start discussing them and to realise they simply stand in the way of a healthy form of nationalism.


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