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To Be or Not to Be Russian?
By Konstantin M. Averin Tatiana I. Pavlova
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Konstantin M. Averin and Tatiana I. Pavlova
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is National Consciousness?
Dear reader, let us have a heart-to-heart talk on the affairs so routine and trivial that they all too often escape our awareness. Yet they have entered our life, they are imperceptibly in it, and they rather conspicuously and considerably determine the life quality. One example is home. The word itself seems so simple and habitual. Most just have a home, and some don't. Saying home, we actually mean not a definite living space that is—alas!—owned by far not by every citizen of the Russian Federation, but rather a nook where your soul and body can find peace and rest (for a while at least) and gain safety (be it even half absolute and half permanent).
Now let us imagine we do not have a nook of the kind—just don't have it. No one is waiting for us, there is no shelter to protect us from natural disasters and storms of life, and nobody needs or loves us. How fearful, is it not? Moreover, the very concept of home, as we have seen, is not at all limited to some space, place, or other folks who share it with us. It also embraces our feelings linked with it. Put it otherwise, it includes our self-sentiment. And, for the latter, much depends on whom and how we realize our own selves, on the way we feel at this home and who we are in our own eyes and in the eyes of our household.
Besides, we all have a still larger home—our Mother Earth—where we were all born and now coexist with other people. How often do you, dear reader, feel you are an earthling, a member of the mankind? The earth is so large and so diverse! It means that we, its inhabitants, are diverse too. In order to feel greater specificity, to come nearer to ourselves, let us define a narrower perceptual field and remember, in particular, that we are Eurasians. It is still hard to feel that we are therefore linked with all the achievements of the human culture and wisdom, all those superb and magnificent things created in Europe and Asia. It would be a bit easier to understand that the problems typical for our continent are common for all of us. Many suddenly realized that Chernobyl is not so far away as they had thought and Chechnya is much closer than they would like it to be. How far is, at first thought, France from Iraq? Yet how soon they might find common problems and troubles! It is still easier to realize you are a resident and a citizen of a definite country, say, Russia. Great is Mother Russia, yet how fast spread are various rumors across its vast expanses, especially those fabrications that ruin the quiet and calm life, distressing and frightening us.
Russia may also be diverse and various in its manifestations. Whom and how do you picture yourself in this land? This definite question has so many definite answers. We shall pick out just one alternative. The majority of those inhabiting the earth refer themselves to a definite nationality and a definite ethnic group. This is the first manifestation of national consciousness. According to the last population census, most residents of Russia (115.87 million people, or 79.8 percent of all the citizens) consider themselves ethnic Russians and acknowledge themselves as a part of the Russian people.
Let us try to figure out what it means to be Russian. The answer is not at all easy to find as it needs mental efforts and time. So is it worth answering? Perhaps we should simply forget it and concentrate on our vital daily problems? Yet each day we, generally speaking, are challenged by questions: where to live, whom to live with, how to live, what for to live, etc. We may be absorbed in getting daily bread without thinking of our national and ethnic background. For what reason do we store our brain with immaterial and irrelevant things? However, the experience of so many people shows that once we find ourselves in the active interethnic communication zone or leave Russia (i.e., get into the international communication zone), the outside world readily reflects our ethnic and national peculiarities, hinting at our national identity. Furthermore, our life greatly depends on how and where we can actualize our inclinations and strivings, which all, to some extent, depend on our ethnic and national backgrounds. Thus, our successful self-actualization demands that we try to discover the hidden us and realize our inner peculiarities and contradictions (which are perhaps inherent in each person), including those defined by the nationality.
Before we proceed, we have to decide on the meanings we attach to the concepts of ethnos and nation. The importance of it is in the fact that modern science shows considerable discord in the questions of these concepts' origin and use. The authors of this investigation generally agree with those who view ethnos as a settled human community formed during a definite historical period at a definite territory. Its members are united not only by their proximity of blood but also at mental and spiritual levels. So this commonness is partially apprehended yet partially remains unconscious. Sure enough, its value varies from person to person. This depends on the person himself, his or her development level, living and upbringing conditions, and, on the other hand, the peculiarities of the ethnic community. Representatives of some ethnic groups perceive their ethnic links with other people as something as real as any other outer world phenomenon (e.g., the river on whose banks they reside). Touching the Russian people, whose national consciousness we are investigating, the situation here is far from simple. However, we'll speak of this later.
Under a nation, we mean a community envisaging not just an ethnic but also a social aspect in its development. The deciding part in the formation of a nation is performed by economic and centripetal political developments of interethnic contacts regulated by the state—like defense from the common enemy. If there is someone these days who doubts his ethnic background, then the national identity—which is, by the way, regulated by the state and expressed, among other things, through citizenship—is already a legally fixed reality.
Basing on the earliest extant annals dating to the mid-fourteenth century, we may say that by that time the idea of unity of the Russian ethnos had already been implicitly formed, which testifies a definite development level of Russian ethnic awareness. At the same time, historical studies show that starting from the late fourteenth century there was a significant expansion of the territory of the Russian state, which inevitably entails formation of a complex social structure that includes various ethnic groups sharing a common statehood. Our idea is that the above social structure may already be described as national since in its essence it is a prototype for the Russian nation in its present-day sense. So the said period is the time when Russian national consciousness started to be gradually formed.
Now let us try to define what unites all Russians and is reflected, either consciously or unconsciously, in every soul. The starting point will be those things that can be seen, heard, felt, or, in other words, perceived. The first one coming to our mind is our Russian land, which includes the territory of residence of most Russians, plus all of its various natural sites: forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, meadows, marshes, all of its plant and animal life. For lots of people, this is what they imagine while thinking of Russia, their Motherland. Then we remember the Russian language as a unique means of communication, which permits us to intercommunicate without being locked inside our own selves. Only when you are far beyond the boundaries of Russia do you start to realize how sweet this language may seem to the ear and what a great uniting force it contains within itself. Being born on the Russian land, to a Russian (or Russian-speaking) family, we receive our native land, and space, and the Russian language, as gifts. All this is initially given to us. So let us ask ourselves this: can we add much good to this? Can we do anything meaningful for this at all? As a reply, we may soon see images that can hardly be named constructive: much has been done to contaminate and squander all these priceless gifts. How many more future generations of Russians can enjoy them? Most forecasts are rather disappointing, yet we shouldn't forget that the final result depends on the efforts of each and every.
Coming to this world, man alters it leaving the traces of his creative work to those who come after him. After birth we also receive the cultural heritage created by Russians and other peoples inhabiting Russia. Temples and museums, paintings and books, songs and dances, especially those that are spiritually linked with the Russian land and its peoples, are organically integrated in life itself, leaving deep traces in our souls (perhaps in bodies too), and these are also associated with the image of the Motherland. Of course, this cultural heritage is far from being simple as it contains both the positive and the negative. So for the sake of objectivity, the list is to be supplemented with prisons, ruined ancient monuments, longstanding scrap yards and dumps, deserted villages. These too are our cultural heritage.
Apart from this, many generations of our ancestors leave us history: that of Russia, that of the Russian people. We may like it or not, but our history is within us, affecting our life. Although it may not be repeated, it flares up like a distant lighting in our lives; it floats up in our memory and in the genotype of the new generations. Each Russian has definite links with those who built the earliest monasteries and chapels, went to battle with the Polovtsians and the Pechenegs, suffered in one war after another, revolution after revolution, reform after reform ... Some might feel kinship with those who once came to populate and reclaim our land many centuries ago. Who were they? Where from did they come? When? So many questions ... Still more answers. Yet anyone who will think over these questions and grope for answer will sooner or later find the truth.
Historically formed in our land was also the Russian lifestyle. What is this and where is it manifested? The answer is of special relevance today when the main streets of most cities and towns of Russia look so much alike as they abound in foreign titles and one-type posters, when it is prestigious not only to wear foreign-made clothes but also to have imported products for food. Nevertheless we can still see elements of the Russian lifestyle showing up in festivals, especially old and religious ones, in Russian tablefuls, in interpersonal communication traditions, and in the way of life in rural areas. One should note that in recent years some Russians have been quite consciously introducing Russian-style elements in their everyday life. Can you be referred to them, dear reader?
And, of course, we receive from our ancestors our body, the one that becomes our lifelong look. Any mirror will tell us that our look has a lot of features distinguishing our ethnicity quite clearly. The same features and characteristics defining both the external and internal conformity can be seen in our children and grandchildren. Although these change from one generation to another, still there is a definite outline that stays through millennia. How much joy this conformity brings us at times!
Yet we Russians (by the way, like all those humans representing other nationalities) share not just visible, perceptible things and phenomena. There are unseen, still very significant connections that may stay unperceived for years and then at a certain life moment make themselves known so commandingly that they may turn into a determinative force in our fate. Here we may, first of all, refer to the Russian spirit. For each Russian, it is a reality comparable to our forests and mountains.
Where is this spirit? Where can it be found? In fact, it is in many things: in the grandeur and power of the Russian land; in our songs, tales, and legends shining for us from the remote past; in the deep national traditions and beliefs that penetrate the outer world linking us with the spirit; in the spiritual links of so many generations of Russians; and in our faith in God. Speaking of faith, we mean not just Christianity to form a phenomenon named Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Excerpted from To Be or Not to Be Russian? by Konstantin M. Averin Tatiana I. Pavlova Copyright © 2011 by Konstantin M. Averin and Tatiana I. Pavlova. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface to the English Edition....................v
Chapter 1 What Is National Consciousness?....................1
Chapter 2 From Ilya of Murom to RNU: Russian National Consciousness Formation and Development....................11
Chapter 3 Christ's People or Asiopeans? Aspects and Extremes of the Russian National Self-Esteem....................97
Chapter 4 How to Be Russian? Criteria of Russianness....................133
About the Authors....................169
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The key role in self-consciousness of a modern person plays the issues of national and ethnic self-identification, the formation of which occur at the turn of personal and social development. How do Russians identify themselves in Modern Russia? What were the formation stages of their national awareness and self-consciousness in the course of historical development of Russia? The answers to these questions are not just a tribute to the past; they influence the modern life in Russia as well as define its future. The life of different social structures - from a family to a nation and a human community on the whole - eventually depends on self-identification and self-consciousness of an individual. These are some issues that the authors of the book suggest considering.