My Cherished Enemy: The Construction of Identity and Otherness in Russia
As of 2018 the Russian Federation is home to 185 registered ethnic groups, ranging in size from 5.3 million of the Volga Tatars to the merely 64 people of the Votes. Many of them are adherents to religions other than Orthodoxy with Muslims, Jews and Catholics being the most numerous – Muslims alone constitute approximately 10% of Russia’s population. But while the issue of religious and ethnic minorities, which is one of the most pressing and indeed controversial topics in Europe, is largely a result of migrations that begun in the decades following WWII, the fact that Russia has a wide range of minorities is a product of a thousand years of historical development. The ancestors of virtually all Muslims in the country were, for example, competitors to the subsequent Russian states, later became subjugated by Moscow and made the transition to minority status around the dawn of the 20th century. The Soviet Union was named the world’s first ‘affirmative action empire’ and a ‘’prison of peoples’ at the same time and the ways Russian and Soviet societies were developing over the centuries are inseparable from the question of otherness. The thesis is an inquiry into the origins of the development of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in Russia. The main goal of the dissertation is to give a series of interconnected examples form the early 10th century until the end of WWII with a special reference to Eurasian nomads and show how Russia’s relationship with the ‘other’ developed from the time when the East Slavs were little more than a collection of tribal confederations to the era of Soviet superpower. By shedding light on the hitherto underplayed roots of certain phenomenon such as the question of the Jewish Khazars or how the ambivalent Russian notions about the ‘West’ reflect on episodes of medieval historiography, the main contribution of the dissertation is to point to connections and continuations in the ways the Russian states and their leaders conducted themselves. This is why it is equally important to discuss the origins of Islam in Tatarstan, the question of empire, the treatment of Jews under Alexander III or the systematic rewriting of Russian history during the 1930s. Such questions are crucial to the formation of the Russian psyche thus the thesis casts a wide net without reducing itself to a mere chronological recounting of certain key events. If Lenin was right and ‘Everything is connected to everything else’ such complex approaches hold the key to a better understanding of the Russian Federation of 2018.