By Michael Averko
There has been considerable discussion of such terms as Russocentric, Russophobic and Russophilic within the more academic spheres of English language analysis about Russia. This has led me to another comment on the very matter of what being Russian means.
In America, one is permitted to feel a kinship towards the land of his/her ethnic origin. Hence, a wide range of Americana is evident. It's not uncommon for Americans of historically adversarial ethnic groups to express their differences at various news gathering venues.
In the English language mass media, academia and body politic, there's no doubt that the anti-Russian viewpoint receives favoritism over pro-Russian views. The former claims that this is based on a well-founded reality which many Russians have not or cannot come to grips with. So as to not repeat myself on this particular point, I reference my recent commentary Brewing A Russian Backclash.
A main ingredient of the anti-Russian position is the stressing of how Russia is (supposedly) an intolerable place for non-Russians. Isolated instances of extreme Russian nationalism get magnified to enforce the negative image being promoted by the anti-Russians.
In actuality, Russia has been a very tolerant nation when it comes to absorbing different ethnic groups. There are a variety of reasons for this. The Russians themselves are very much a "mutt" people, comprised of Slavic, Viking and Mongol influences. In comparison, the alleged "pure breeds" in more homogenous countries might be more prone to having greater apprehension about those coming from a different ethno/cultural background.
Russian history is stacked with people from non-Russian origin, who in turn become more Russian than the Russians themselves. Catherine the Great (a Prussian princess) and Alexander Pushkin (whose grandfather was a freed Ethiopian slave) immediately come to mind.
On a much lesser known scale are the many backgrounds of others similar (in one way or another) to my own. I'm 1/4 Russian Orthodox Christian and 1/4 Baltic-German Jewish on my father's side of the family, with my mother's side being 100% Greek Sephardic Jewish. Yet, after acquiring my American identity by birth, it's the Russian designation which serves as my desired identifier.
A frequent Russia-bashing talking point concerns the past and present treatment of Jews in Russia. As someone who simultaneously feels part of the Jewish and political "White Russian" (the latter comprising those Russians feeling allegiance to those who fought on the anti-Communist side during the Russian Civil War) communities, I feel that I'm in a unique position to give an honest appraisal on this specific matter.
I reference this excerpt from an article of mine entitled Stephen Cohen: Mainstreaming For the Elites:
"In The Moscow Times, Cohen had an article stating that Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky could never become Russian president because of his Jewish background. He repeated this claim during an appearance on the PBS Charlie Rose Show. Cohen thus engages in a crude caricaturing of Russia, overlooking numerous particulars.
Skilled propagandists are adept at mixing fact with fiction for the purpose of creating a certain image for popular consumption. Yes, Jews have collectively had instances of misfortune in Russia (as elsewhere). However, to play on that in a manner ignoring the positives is nothing short of demagoguery.
In the over two-hundred-year political history of the United States, there have been no American presidents or vice presidents of known Jewish background. In the short political history of post-Soviet Russia, there have been three Russian prime ministers of Jewish heritage, including the current one (Mikhail Fradkov). Over the past several years, migration from Israel to Russia is around 50,000, whereas migration from Russia to Israel is about 10,000. In all probability, Jews have intermarried more with Russian Gentiles than in any other European nation. Factoids like these aren't advertised in Anglo-American mainstream media because they go against the Brzezinskiite and neo-conservative picture of Russia as a growing authoritarian cesspool under the evil Vladimir Putin.
The responsible analysis from Cohen would have been an addendum to his statement about Jews having a troubled history in Russia. Notably, that such problems aren't exclusively indicative of Russia itself. A great parallel would be noting how many African-Americans are patriotically proud of the United States, despite the great hardships that community has faced. Likewise, I have run into my share of Russian Jews who have been offended by unfair comments directed against Russia. It could be legitimately argued that within the comparative realms of Russian and American societies, Jews have had it better in Russia when compared to Blacks in the U.S."
The perennial world powers seem to share something in common. The ability to attract others into their respective national idea.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.