IMGXYZ6825IMGZYXThe first phase in the coexistence of two different kinds of culture has shown that the multicultural, assimilation and adaptation models are all ineffective in Europe. We need to find a comprehensive approach, a hybrid model acceptable to both Europeans and immigrant communities. Attaining this extremely difficult goal would require both sides to make concessions, although as hosts the Europeans may advance tougher but reasonable demands.

Alexey Malashenko, an expert on Russian and Eurasian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center, talks with Yevgeny Shestakov, who hosts the Discussion Club, a joint project by the Rossiiskaya Gazeta website and the Valdai Club, on how to safeguard multi-confessional and multinational states against collapse.

Shestakov: You probably remember Leo Tolstoy’s phrase, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Can it be applied to states?

Malashenko: I don’t know a single state that can be called happy. All countries face popular discontent and irritation, and people everywhere want their state to be better. Quoting further from Anna Karenina, marriage is always hard work. No, I cannot name a single happy state, with the possible exception of Andorra. But then, perhaps Andorra is unhappy in its own way.

As for unhappy states that are in the grips of crisis, the converse is true: they are all alike. They share common problems, such as poverty, a sense of disappointment with the government, and a gap between the ruling elite and the people. I would describe the atmosphere as entrenched, longstanding desperation and apathy. Since such states usually don’t have democratic mechanisms for the transfer of power, revolts ensue. If they succeed, they are renamed revolutions; if not, they stay revolts.

Can these social factors cause states to collapse?

States usually fall apart for ethnic reasons. Multinational and multi-confessional states disintegrate along these fault lines. Look at the events of recent decades, from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Sudan. A weak state with ethnic problems can collapse, or ethnic enclaves can secede.

Are there universal factors that provoke this kind of national disintegration, or are they unique to each state?

I have already enumerated these universal socio-economic and political factors. The disintegration of a state is almost always rooted in ethnic problems, acute ethnic problems and a minority’s desire to secede. Some nations consist of equal or almost equal parts, but they still want a divorce, as happened in Czechoslovakia and as might yet happen in Belgium. I almost forgot Canada. Life in a state made up of a single, homogenous ethnicity or nationality is much quieter and more prosperous than in a complex multi-ethnic state.

Can it be said that an imprudent ethnic relations policy can lead to the collapse of a state?

Yes, in general. The history of humankind abounds in such examples. Part of the blame rests with the authorities, but they are sometimes completely impotent because some states consist of cultures that are very difficult, if not impossible, to align.

One can lay the blame for the split in Sudan at the foot of the Sudanese authorities, citing the presence of oil in the country’s south to which foreigners who supported the separation of the country will now have production rights. But the psychological and cultural incompatibility of the Muslim north and the semi-Christian, semi-Pagan south had a much bigger influence on the process.

Could the rejection of multiculturalism that we have seen in Germany and later in Britain and France eventually result in their collapse?

No, this will never happen, first of all because we are talking about immigrants. It will not happen provided immigrants decide that their main ambition is to integrate into European society rather than simply live off it, and provided they don’t try to put too much emphasis on their ethnic and cultural differences.

They move to Europe in search of a better life, and they must know that their quality of life there depends on their ability to integrate into European society.

The first phase of coexistence of two kinds of cultures has shown that the multicultural model is ineffective in Europe, and the models of assimilation and adaptation are no better. We need to find a comprehensive approach, a hybrid model that would be acceptable both to Europeans and immigrant communities. Ensuring peaceful coexistence is an age-long process. Attaining this extremely difficult goal would require both sides to make concessions, although as hosts the Europeans may advance tougher but reasonable demands. As for the immigrants, they should at least learn the language of the host country.

Can centralized power protect a multinational state from collapse?

Yes and no. In one situation a centralized government can be an advantage, but when it exceeds the boundaries of reason, the kind of problems that the Soviet Union faced appear: with no breaks on centralization it ran wild. You know how that story ended.

Therefore, we need a creative, flexible approach to centralization: one day increasing, then, possibly, diminishing. There is no universal model that can be applied across the board. There should be a reasonable balance between the two extremes, high and low, especially in Russia.

Was there ever such a balance in Russia?

Russia has always been a late developer. All its reforms had a great many drawbacks. It was only in the early 20th century, I think, that Russia started developing political forms that could lead to positive change. This may sound trite, but I am referring here, in the broadest sense, to Stolypin’s reforms. Russia was heading towards a certain model, but lacked the time to achieve its goal. Its progress was cut short by the explosive combination of WWI and the Bolsheviks.

But it was moving in the right direction, essentially, albeit along a winding path beset by serious contradictions. But still, in the early 20th century the Russian elite was becoming increasingly aware of what a multinational state really meant, as well as of the ideal balance of central power and ethnic provinces. Unfortunately, this was then replaced by a highly centralized Soviet power, which paid a high price for preserving the state and even managed to advance it for short periods of time. Ultimately the Soviet Union was bound to fall; it was impossible to reform it.

You probably remember that Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, called on regional leaders to grab as much sovereignty as they could manage. How would you assess that call now?

He was highly emotional when he uttered that phrase. After the Soviet Union’s enforced centralization, ethnic and nationalistic trends were bound to grow in the regions. Russia’s new authorities could not work out how to deal with this nationalism resurgent, failing to counteract those growing trends while preventing the revival of the tough old regime. Not to mention the large number of mistakes they made unwittingly for lack of experience, or because of greed.

Can the contradiction between the UN principle of self-determination of nations and the territorial integrity of states be resolved?

No, this contradiction cannot be resolved, but the world is coming to regard it more calmly. Take Cyprus, which is divided into a recognized state and an unrecognized part, or Karabakh, or the highly specific problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is also the problem of Kurds, who are a very large stateless nation. And then there is Africa. In other words, there is no universal model which can be applied to resolve these contradictions, nor can there ever be.

Some experts think that even the possibility of collapse could be ruled out where states do not comprise separate national territorial units, but regions that lack any connection to nations or ethnic groups.

That could be an option, but unfortunately it is unviable. It looks good on paper, but it’s unrealistic. You can announce the creation of any state and even put it on the map, but can you imagine how ethnic regions would react? Of course, when inter-ethnic relations are cloud-free this would be no great event, but there are bound to be tensions one way or another.

What form of relations should we develop with these new states? Some countries say they should be boycotted to discourage others from following suit and demanding independence, while other states are keen to establish relations with them so that these new territorial units are not left out of the global process.

Some situations leave you with no way back. Abkhazia will never rejoin Georgia, and Nagorny Karabakh will never again be part of Azerbaijan. Therefore, relations with them will develop de facto, which is an unstable foundation.

However, as one look at the map will show, these unrecognized states are small, with populations of less than half a million people in most cases and sometimes as few as several thousand. They appear in special, but painful, cases. But they are like the flu, not cancer, and hence their appearance will have no fundamental consequences for the world.

This interview originally appeared on the Rossiyskaya Gazeta site.