Social Identity and Conflict in the Autonomous Republics of Russia and Ukraine
At a recent Kennan Institute talk, Karina Korostelina, research professor, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, and former regional exchange scholar, Kennan Institute, discussed the results of survey research she has been conducting together with the European Research Center for Migration and Ethnic Relations on identity in the autonomous republics of Russia and Ukraine. The survey queried 6,522 residents of republics, including Bashkortostan, Karelia, Komi, Sakha (Yakutia), and Tatarstan in Russia, and Crimea in Ukraine. It examined the construction of social identities, common narratives outlining threats, confidence in public institutions, the presence of ideas about national minorities as fifth columns, and ethnic stereotypes.
One part of the survey examined a range of possible social identities, including Soviet, ethnic, religious, regional, and civic identities. "Soviet identity" is still important in many places, according to Korostelina, especially among older people. Ethnic identity varies in importance among the regions. In the autonomous republics, regional identity is more salient and national identity is less salient than in Russia itself, she noted. The survey also compared concepts of identity between Russia and Ukraine. Ethnic, religious, and Soviet identities are more salient in Russia than in Ukraine, whereas regional identity is more important in Ukraine, Korostelina observed.
The perception of economic threats to the population is high, especially in regions with weak economies, Korostelina stated. Combining economic uncertainty with perceptions about ethnic bias in the job market creates instability and potential for conflict, she said. The level of confidence in public institutions, such as regional governments, is generally low across all regions, with trust in national government institutions higher overall in Russia than in Ukraine, she observed.
In terms of ethnic stereotypes, Korostelina found that Russians had the most negative perceptions about Ukrainians and Bashkirs, and had positive perceptions of Karels, Komi, and Yakuts, perceiving them as "smart" and "honest." Yakuts see Russians the most positively, while Tatars have the lowest opinions of Russians, she continued.
Korostelina's study also assessed the potential for conflicts in each of these republics, measuring intolerance, feelings of social distance and distrust between ethnic groups, ethnocentricity, ethnic mobilization, and the desire for independence for the autonomous republics. According to the survey, intolerance was highest in Crimea and lowest in Sakha. Distrust of other ethnic groups was highest in Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Komi, she noted, while ethnocentricity was highest in Bashkortostan and Komi, and lowest in Sakha. Ethnic mobilization was high in Sakha and Crimea.
All of these factors can lead to tension between ethnic groups, Korostelina said. The early warning model, built on the basis of the survey, showed the potential for conflict based on these factors, and found that it was highest in Bashkortostan and Crimea, and to a lesser extent in Tatarstan. Conflict was unlikely in Sakha, Karelia, and Komi, according to Korostelina, although there were still certain indicators that suggested potential problems, including moderate support for independence in these republics.