North Caucasians in Moscow Re-Identify as Muscovites

_ Paul Goble. Staunton, September 2nd 2016.

Non-Russians from the Caucasus who come to Moscow to study or work are identify themselves as Muscovites (but not as Russians) far more quickly than do ethnic Russians from the provinces, Leokadiya Drobizheva says, highlighting a phenomenon that is often lost sight of in Russian discussions about “persons of Caucasus nationality.”

Not only does it underscore the fact that North Caucasians having arrived in Moscow from depressed regions view Moscow as offering them enormous opportunities for social and economic advancement, but it highlights as well the real but often less discussed tensions between Muscovites and Russians beyond the ring road.

The comments by Drobizheva, perhaps Russia’s most senior and distinguished ethno-sociologist, are offered by Anton Bredikhin, a specialist on the Caucasus, in a discussion of the very real problems some North Caucasus migrants in the Russian capital face and that the authorities must deal with.

According to Drobizheva and other experts Bredikhin cites, North Caucasians adapt to Moscow relatively quickly, with males and those with higher education doing so more quickly than others and with Dargins and Kumyks fitting into the mores of the city more quickly than Kabardins and Avars.

Summarizing much recent Russian research – and his article is heavily footnoted – Bredikhin says that “young people from the republics of the North Caucasus coming to study and work in Moscow fall into a multi-national and multi-confessional milieu of the Russian capital,” bringing with them values and behaviors that many Muscovites view as “’alien.’”

“On ‘the new Muscovites,’” the scholar continues, “the capital of the Russian Federation generates a feeling of euphoria and specialness to the extent that these young people have been able to leave their native provincial city, aul, kishlak or village. They are offered broad opportunities, career growth and high pay.”

In their first months, many turn to diaspora organizations to get their bearings; and their involvement with these groups both helps them to integrate and also creates among some a new kind of hostility against the surrounding Russian culture which many of the new migrants view as effeminate, a view that leads some to stress their masculinity.

Over time, that dissipates, studies have found, Bredikhin reports, as the new arrivals make friends and adapt to Muscovite conditions and conventions. Many say, he continues, that “’here (in Moscow) it is a million times better than in Azerbaijan and a thousand times better than in Daghestan.’”

Those who adapt successfully, he says, often break their relations not only with the diaspora organizations but also with their former “small” motherlands. They no longer believe that they have to coordinate everything with their families and clans, a marked contrast to their views before coming to Moscow.

The religious affiliation of the migrants plays a key role. Those who are Christians find it easier to fit in and adapt. Those who are Muslims tend to build bridges less with the Russians than with other Muslims in the Russian capital from the Middle Volga, Crimea or Central Asia and stand apart from the Russians.

Those relative few who are Jewish, Buddhist or Protestant also tend to retain their isolation from Russian society, Bredikhin says.

He concludes by saying that the authorities have to be alert to the dangers of radicalization of these groups even when they identify as Muscovites, that the government must be more pro-active in explaining the evils of jihad, and that the Russian authorities must build bridges to these people as the future “professional cadres reserve” for their home republics.


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