Russian Identity and Russian Heritage at the Turn of the Globalization Era

Aleksandr Shchipkov

The issues of identity and heritage are becoming increasingly pressing as the globalization reveals its limits. Moreover, local and regional processes are becoming increasingly important.

Let me remind about an event that happened a few years ago in Germany and provoked a lot of emotional and contradictory responses. I mean the famous statement by Angela Merkel about the end of the multiculturalism era, made in 2010 at a meeting of the youth organization of the Christian Democratic Party in Potsdam, Germany.

Nowadays, the abandonment of multiculturalism policy is often explained by the fact that the Turks and the Pakistanis do not want to become integrated into European society and to give up their identity. It seems to me that the migration issue is secondary. We should rather mean that the world has lost its economic stability. In this connection, we have to pose the question of unprofitable globalization, which is supposed to have hit overload.

What can we see today? The growing popularity of national and conservative parties in the West. The growth of fundamentalist movements in the Middle East and nationalist ideas in the Eastern Europe. The world stands on the cusp of regionalization. It marks the growth of regional unions, markets and currencies.

The background of all the abovementioned events is the understanding that the USA control the global processes less and less effectively. The global project, as a union, is gradually phasing down, so far under conditions and to the benefit of the globalizers.

However, the most important thing is that the demand for identity and heritage is dramatically increasing even under such conditions. The identity and the traditionalism have been awarded an open political statement. They became protectors of stability in our volatile world, which has just entered a turbulence zone.

What is identity? In terms of psychology, it means a collective "self-conception". It is the society's answer to such questions as "what are we?", "where do we come from and where are we going?". It is the awareness of its historical mission after all. Today, the identity and the heritage are highly prized again. Moreover, those, whose identity is more durable and stable, are the winners of political debates. Identity crisis or its looseness, on the contrary, leads to the loss of political and geopolitical positions.

Let us turn to Russian heritage and Russian identity. It would seem the simplest thing – to name a number of socially important cultural symbols, historical events, iconic figures, values and taboos. And then to designate all of it as our gestalt (German Gestalt - personality, image, form), our collective wisdom and the ground of our national heritage. Moreover, our identity is the inner community spirit related to all the above mentioned features.

Nevertheless, the issue of Russian identity remains one of the most problematic in Russian discussions.

In order to understand this question, we need to study the permanent element of Russian collective consciousness, which is evident in all political regimes. This is the core of the heritage.

Following the well-known Max Webber formula, "the orthodox ethics and the spirit of solidarity" are the core of Russian heritage. I am referring not to the artificial empowerment of church, but namely to the Christian ethics and, in the parlance of our time, the social welfare state. These are the very spiritual values that are so much discussed today. Soon after, we shall return to this subject.

It is quite obvious that the unitary nationalism scenario is impossible in Russia by virtue of the abovementioned principles. Such a scenario once stimulated the genocide of the Armenians by Kemal Atatürk, and today it resulted in the genocide of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Russian identity is based on religious and ethical dominant rather than on ethno-national one.

One of the important elements of real Russian identity is irredentism, the idea of reunification of the Russian people – the largest of the divided peoples in the world (see the "Crimean Speech" by V.Putin). The reunion, but not a forced "Russification" of other ethnic groups.

The negotiation of historical gaps confers the final identity formation and the birth of a nation in Russia: for example, the search for connections between "secular" and "religious", as well as the overcoming the conflict between the former Reds and the Whites. The solution of these problems also connects the divided Russian people, not in terms of location, like irredentism (e.g., return of the Crimea), but in terms of time.

Another important condition is the existence of a social project. None of big countries can exist "as the occasion demands". Only its own image connection with the vision of the desired future makes the heritage serve and makes the identity (that is a subjective measurement of heritage) develop. Only in this case traditionalism does not lead to historical encapsulation.

The core of any national heritage consists of common values and models of interaction within the context of these values. That is, social ethics and the moral "code". However, such ethics usually has religious origins.

In his book "The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1905) Max Weber claimed that any religion is closely associated with social organization, not only with the problem of salvation. He pointed that any religion has specific social goals apart from soteriological goal and that any religious and ethical code influences social relations, including the economy.

Nowadays, Weber's statement is an axiom of social sciences. It follows that no public ethics can have roots other than religious. The connection between these roots is lost, but ethics is still kept in the subconscious of a nation. It can be reconstructed through humanitarian research and can be seen plainly in time of crisis and turning points of the history. For example, during the Great Patriotic War, many soldiers experienced religion, in spite of officially proclaimed atheism.

However, how can we determine the ethical and the cultural aspects of the Russian heritage based on the religious factor?

According to Weber's formula, we obtain the following definition: "the orthodox ethics and the spirit of solidarity" (i.e equity, partnership and mutual assistance). This is a specific Russian ethos. Its important part represents the idea of a fair society. The transfer of this principle from the era of peasant community to the period of a social welfare state construction (though with mixed results) is natural. It reflects the social projection of evangelic archetypes in Russian society by Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church. The apostolic Christianity containing the ideal of community justice and social justice in Russia are inseparable concepts.

The idea of justice signifies the categorical imperative in Russian heritage. Yesterday's peasants perceived the Revolution of 1917 not as a dictate of militant atheism, but as a dawn of higher justice. In this case, the true roots of social justice in Russian heritage can be found not in politico-economical Marxist theses, but in the Christian consciousness.

The cultural context also reveals the close interaction of secular and religious layers. Even a thin layer of Russian intellectual culture containing secular and religious lines, fundamentally separated in the 18th century, experienced this interaction (let us remember the works of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Leskov and Leo Tolstoy). Moreover, the rest of society, "the people" as the saying goes, demonstrates this interaction (or the interchange of secular and religious layers) on a regular basis. Such verbal expressions as "It's not Christian-like", "No cross you have!" "Fear God!" can often be heard from unreligious people. The secular society carries the Christian ethic standards within itself.

Of course, the Russian Orthodox Church and the clergy of other religions take into account the phenomenon of social principle in religion and work with it. In recent years, such provisions as "Grounds of Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" achieved prominence. It bears reminding that a similar document already exists in the Roman Catholic Church. Russia follows the world trends here.

The process of socialization of the Russian Orthodox Church is currently growing in strength. Such process was impossible in the USSR, and in 1990s it was slowed down. Meanwhile, for example, in Poland the church socialization took place in the 80-ies. After the communists, no one prevented Polish Catholicism from return to its social niche. For this reason, the entire conservative spectrum of the Polish politics is now imbued with Catholic ideas.

In other countries of Europe and America, the socialization took place even earlier. In Russia, it occurs with a certain time delay. The reason is a too long period of state atheism and its modern recurrences typical for a specific part of political elite. For example, Mikhail Prokhorov, a businessman, recently tried to propose the so-called "Religious Code", limiting the rights of believers, for consideration.

Nevertheless, the process of socialization of Orthodoxy and other traditional religions in Russia, is historically inevitable.

First of all, it is in line with global trends. In particular, this process is supported by the demand of the modern society for "secular religion", associated with the phenomenon of "post-secularity", that is often spoken about in recent years both in the West and in Russia.

Secondly. There is one more factor contributing to the enhancement of the religion's role in the world model of Russian civilization. It is subject directly to the Church with its special role in the preservation of national traditions and heritage. The problem is that the Russian Orthodox Church was the only institution in historical pre-revolutionary Russia that survived the Soviet period and survived until today. The Church links the nation with vital threads to its pre-revolutionary culture. The historical continuance of Russia is still not clearly defined, so the hurch has unwittingly become the guardian of the entire national heritage, and not only religious traditions. Of course, this role is temporary. As soon as other public institutions assume these duties, the Russian Orthodox Church will relinquish them.

Nowadays, not only in the Russian Orthodox Church, but also in all traditional religions existing in Russia, the clergy is responsible for religious ethics and culture strengthening regardless of certain persons' attitude to religion. In this case, it is possible to rely on the integrity and moral health of the Russian society in the future, as well as on the interethnic and interfaith peace.

The Christian ethics can become a significant point of social and cultural issues gathering which is significant for Russia. This factor, combined with the factor of Russian language, provides the possibility to specify a clear semantic content of such concept as the "Russian World", which has still not received its final determination.

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Moscow, 2014