Russia’s ‘Myth of Equality’: Yesterday and Today

Thursday, July 13, 2017
East Quad Lecture Theatre (University of Glasgow)
Federica Prina , School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
This paper examines what may be called Russia’s ‘myth of equality’ of its ethnic groups. It will trace the development of the notion of equality of peoples and self-determination from the position of the Bolshevik leaders, which formed the ideological basis for diversity management during the Soviet Union. It will then highlight how the notion of equality and ‘inter-ethnic friendship’ has made the transition to the post-Soviet period, particularly under the Putin leadership. The focus will be the intersection of perception of equality and institutional arrangements for the accommodation of multi-ethnicity, often presented in Russia as superior to ‘Western’ forms of multiculturalism. Yet research points to the fact that public policies seem to be prolonging, rather than resolving, strained social and inter-ethnic relations, while discrimination as well as xenophobic attitudes continue to affect minorities and migrants, particularly those of ‘non-Slavic appearance’. By analysing Russian law and policies on ‘equality’ the paper will argue that the Russian government is in fact entrenching social injustice, by perpetuating a myth of (formal) equality and peaceful coexistence of its ethnic groups. The paper will focus on how Russia’s institutional design for the management of ethno-cultural diversity undermines national minorities’ effective participation in decision-making, by restricting their involvement in devising the rules of engagement regulating their interaction with government structures. The paper will follow a social constructionist and institutionalist approach. It will treat ethnic identity as socially constructed and mutable, and acknowledge the legacy of Soviet ethnic institutions to Russia’s narratives of ethno-cultural identity.