Thursday, November 21, 2013

Russians, Tatars and Chuvash Share Considerable ‘Psychological Similarity’

By Paul Goble

A survey conducted by scholars at the Naberezhny Chelny Institute for Social-Pedagogical Technologies and Resources found that Russians, Tatars, and Chuvash living in Tatarstan’s second largest city share many positive and negative stereotypes about their own nation and the other two, something the researchers say may be the basis for developing inter-ethnic tolerance there.

Members of the three largest nationalities of Naberezhny Chelny were asked to say what they thought were the positive and negative features of their own group and each of the other two. The answers they offered provide an unusual window into the way in which members of these groups, who have been living together for centuries, view each other (

Concerning the Tatars, the titular nationality of the republic and the largest group in that city, both ethnic Russians and Chuvash noted the Tatars’ love of work and their hospitality, but they also both said that Tatars are clannish and overly clever. According to the lead author of the study, Rezida Khusnutdinova, the Tatars agreed with both these positive and negative characterizations of themselves.

In reporting her findings, Khusnutdinova suggested that the Tatars’ love of work reflected their adoption of Islam. Their clannishness stemmed from the fact that most of them had lived in rural areas until relatively recently, and their reputation for cleverness originated from their past as merchants in Volga Bulgaria.

Concerning the ethnic Russians, the Tatars and Chuvash said their positive qualities included kindness, generosity and openness; and their negative ones included laziness and a proclivity to drink too much. The Russians themselves used exactly the same terms to describe themselves positively and negatively. According to Khusnutdinova, the positive features of the Russians are “the reverse side of the negative and therefore inseparable from the latter.”

And concerning the Chuvash, who are Christian Turks historically, the Tatars and Russians noted the honesty and directness of members of that community but said the Chuvash tended to be sloppy and dirty.  Perhaps significantly, the Chuvash used the same terms, positive and negative, to describe themselves. Khusnutdinova notes that Gennady Matveyev, an expert on the Chuvash, provides an explanation for this pattern. He says that “for the overwhelming majority of the Chuvash, they ‘stereotypically’ seek to live by their own labor... They remain attached to the land.  They accepted Orthodoxy not so long ago, in the 16th century, and therefore they still display aspect of agrarian pagan cults.” And as a result, both they and others view them as sloppy or dirty.

Khusnutdinova says the most important finding of her investigation was not this or that positive or negative description of other groups but the fact that members of each of the groups characterized themselves in the same terms that others used to describe them.  That suggests, she adds, that “there is a high level of mutual understanding” among them and that there is a great deal of “psychological similarity.”  That in turn means, she suggests, that “there are fewer possibilities for the growth of ethnic intolerance.”

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