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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


Russians as the New Minority: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Soviet Successor States
Jeff Chinn and Robert Kaiser

Boulder and Oxford: Westview Press, 1996
308pp. Biblio. Index. Pb.: 16.50; ISBN 0-8133-2248-0.



The interaction of Russians and titular indigenes in the non-Russian states of the former Soviet Union encompasses a broad spectrum. For example, a May 20, 2001, article in the New York Times titled "Latvians Can't Escape Cold War's Divisive Legacy" quoted some Latvians calling Russians occupiers, while Russians spoke of outrageous discrimination at the hands of Estonian nationalists. The issues loom large: the twenty five million Russians outside of Russia's borders are the largest minority in Europe.

This book uses the interactive nationalism model to frame the relationship of Russians and titular nationals in the Newly Independent States (NIS). The model "contends that inter-national tensions and conflicts are less the result of ancient, tribal hatreds than the consequence of an interactive process initiated by the majority, titular or dominant nation seeking hegemony in the state. This approach, in contrast to a more primordialist view, implies that inter-national conflicts are amenable to management, because the majority nation can adopt policies to include members of all nations as full and equal participants in the socio-cultural, economic, and political life of the state" (p. 33). The first part of the book provides the theoretical framework and historical background for the analysis, which occurs in the second part of the book.

One wonders why the first part of the book spends so much time on the history of the republics, given the claim made above. The history goes well beyond establishing exactly how the NIS arrived at having Russian minorities. One enlightening section deals with Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost', which were based, according to the authors, on the assumption that a "loyal Soviet people" (p.75) existed. Clearly no such sovietized people existed, as Gorbachev's reforms led to the splintering of the USSR instead of a renewed sense of unity and purpose.

The second half of the book gives individual attention to fourteen NIS. Extensively footnoted, these sections provide a wealth of statistics and information in a concise manner. Broadly speaking, the interactive nationalism model provides an explanation for the current conditions of the Russian minority in the different republics, in as much as the relationship between the Russian minorities and titular indigenes varies greatly from republic to republic, depending significantly on current policies of the NIS. For the detailed individual arguments which claim to demonstrate that the ethnic conflict can be managed, and historical differences overcome, one must read the book.


Stephen L. Pellathy



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