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

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.

1 | 2 | back to TOC

© 2011 || The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation