Staunton, November 2 – In his classic novel, “A Day Longer than an Age,” the Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov offered the powerful image of “mankurts,” people deprived of their identities and thus transformed into more pliant and subservient slaves of others. And this image was applied by many to the peoples of Central Asia in the late Soviet period.
But now, the notion that large numbers of a nation in the Russian Federation have been deprived of their identities has been extended to the ethnic Russians themselves by Veniamin Bashlachev who argues that this is a cancer that threatens to destroy the Russian nation in the near future.
He lays the blame for this on three things: the Bolshevik insistence that Russians must compensate for their earlier rule by promoting the identities of other nations, the failure of Soviet and Russian leaders to come down hard on those non-Russians who killed Russians, and the work of now mass media which don’t discuss the state of Russian self-consciousness.
The first and second of these factors, he says, have contributed to the sense among non-Russians in the former Soviet space that they can oppress or even kill Russians with impunity, an idea that spread from relatively small pogroms against Russians in various places at the end of Soviet times to Chechnya and now to Ukraine.
But the third appears to be even more insidious in its impact within Russia where the media is playing the role of the leather straps on the shaved heads of those Aitmatov said were destined to be mankurt-slaves for their new masters and second class people for members of all other groups.
In support of this contention, Bashlachev offers two pieces of evidence. On the one hand, he says, the failure of Russians to volunteer for pro-Moscow units in Ukraine in large numbers shows that the Russian nation does not have the one or two percent of “passionate” members on whom the survival of any nation depends.
And on the other, he cites the increasing number of Russians who did not declare any nationality in the last three censuses. In historically Russian regions, Bashlachev says, the numbers doing that are still small but they are growing “in geometrical proportion” and thus point to an ongoing threat of deracination of Russians.
In 1989, he says, a few dozen of every 100,000 residents declared that they had no nationality; in 2002, the same number did but now among each 1,000 did so; and in 2010, that figure was true for every 100 residents. And he suggests that in future censuses, the share of those not identifying as Russians in Russian regions will only increase.
(That ever more Russians even in Russian regions are not declaring themselves to be Russians is true, but the figures he offers are very much exaggerated and reflect other trends as well, including the rise of other sub-ethnic identities like Siberians or Cossacks and a turning away from ethnic identity as such.)
Bashlachev says that people in Russian regions are not being deprived of their memories and identities as the medieval mankurts were but with modern methods: “They are now losing their memory with the help of the mass media,” which leads some to say that they are “ashamed” of being Russian. That is often the first step to the loss of identity.
And with the loss of identity, he continues, there is a loss of demographic vitality. The overall population of Russia may now again be increasing slightly, but in historically Russian regions, it is continuing to decline because “there is a direct connection between the wounding of Russian self-consciousness and the withering away of the Russian people.”
Bashlachev concludes: “In real life, self-consciousness is the most important and root quality of an individual. It is ‘the cement’ which ties separate individuals into a people. Self-consciousness is a defense mechanism which allows a people to reliably stand up to the challenges of the surrounding world.”
In short, “without self-consciousness,” he warns, “a people as a subject of history disappears.”