NATIONAL IDENTITY, NATIONAL MENTALITY, AND THE MEDIA
Fatima Muminova, D.Sc. (Philol.), assistant professor, Department of Journalism, National University of Uzbekistan (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
In his introduction to a Russian translation of a book by well-known American scholar who studies the laws related to the mass media Prof. Monroe E. Price Iasen Zasurskiy, Dean of the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University, has written: “By the end of the century the danger of abusing the media and the high information and communication technologies to manipulate human consciousness has become a cruel and harsh reality. The world should unite to repulse this danger.”1 This is topical for all CIS countries hence my attempt at analyzing how the problems of national adequacy, identity and self-identity have come to the fore in publicist writings in the post-Soviet CIS states.
The State of the CIS Countries When They Got Their Independence
To correctly grasp the meaning of the subject of national identity and mentality as they are reflected in the media of the CIS countries we should look back at their state at the beginning of the transition period. Nearly all republics found themselves in similar conditions: technological backwardness, poverty and psychological wounds inflicted by the kaleidoscope of leaders, failed perestroika, snowballing prices on prime necessities, etc. The Soviet Union was hopelessly behind the rates and criteria it had declared as its aim, economy became unmanageable in the twinkling of an eye and fell apart, the Western lifestyle with its affluence and freedoms became a beacon for Soviet people. The wide masses found themselves in an ocean without aim or direction.
As a result everything that people had done before 1991 became senseless. The media of all union republics (later the newly independent states) reflected the situation in a very similar way: confusion, degradation or even paralysis of power, and worsened material and financial conditions. The newly independent nations had to look for new ideals. Communism as the final aim and the communist as an agent that had to reach it left the political stage in all former Soviet republics.
An analysis of the media of that period in the CIS countries has shown that it was impossible to retreat into an ideological vacuum. The former Soviet nations brought up on a powerful and omnipresent ideology could not survive in an ideological vacuum. At that time national and territorial affiliation appeared as a new symbol that was shining brightly for all and everybody.
The National Factor as a Powerful Instrument of Cohesion
The gap between slogans and real life had to be bridged from the positions of state independence. All CIS leaders supported the idea and agreed that it should be realized within state frontiers. The idea of a national state became a stabilizing element of political life. There was moral, psychological and also physical demand (personal security) for a national-state identity and mentality. It is a well-known fact that these sentiments strengthen and increase in scope in a collective (a nation especially). This explains why the population in all CIS states readily embraced the idea: it rekindled hopes for a better future that rested on a new foundation; it drove away the feeling of ethnic inferiority; it coincided with the intentions of the leaders and the masses; it created a feeling of personal security; it offered complete freedom to local authorities, their structures, etc. An analysis of numerous publications of that time that appeared in the CIS countries shows that ethnic inferiority complex was widespread and very contagious. The leaders of the new countries hailed the new idea as best suited to an ideological U-turn of their nations. Indeed, it produced ample shoots and even caused quarrels between recent Soviet partners and even between neighbors.
There were two major factors that boosted the national feeling (or even nationalism): first, the local leaders wanted to be only rulers without any undesirable interference of international organizations and other countries into their style of government. It was clear, at the same time, that this should become an aim of the society and wide popular masses. Yet a too straightforward declaration and popularization of this style of government will do a lot of harm to the images of the new states’ rulers. Therefore, second, they opted for the “resurrection of the nation” idea. This made the concept of a nation and the state border synonyms. National grandeur and dignity are strong and viable feelings that guard the state better than even the strongest border guards.
The psychology of the former Soviet nations for whom spiritual dependence had become a habit to a great degree promoted this course of events. The same applies to the former political institutions—habitual and handy instruments of state administration and control over the masses. In one of her works L. Zemlianova quotes from George Gerbner: “The politics pursued by the media expresses not only the stage of industrial development and of a general structure of social relationships but also various types of institutional and industrial organization and control.”2
Many of the leaders of the newly independent states placed their ideologies on the national renaissance basis. Ideologically and organizationally the foundation was the same everywhere. This uniform approach saved the leaders—none of the nations betrayed a shred of doubt. This was the cornerstone on which the new independent states were raising. However, the construction process differed from country to country.
Those who oriented the national media toward the humane criteria accepted across the world (leaving the purely national ideas under ground) won: their press and TV channels started promoting the values and norms common in the developed world, such as democracy and freedom of the press. This happened in the Baltic republics, partly in Russia and in certain other countries. Regrettably, the majority of the newly independent states did not get such results to a great extent due to concentration on the national idea. The media were serving the state’s concrete political aims.
Thanks to this, national traditions and the wishes of CIS leaders the new mentality developed lopsidedly—it was a national-oriented feeling. Certain countries (Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) to a certain extent preferred to ignore its international functions and merits. In their turn, the national factor and mentality restored in their one-sided form without an adequate international content found their direct expression in national ideologies—a vivid and typical expression of the peoples’ national (ethnic) identities. In other words, the newly created national identity was based on a heightened appreciation of national dignity rather than on the idea that the nation was part of the world community. There is no doubt that the CIS media have done a lot to firmly plant this idea.
Here is a neutral example that belongs to the sphere of economy. Nobody doubts that a rich society is a product of a free economy. Let’s have a look at the situation in the CIS countries where this signally important sphere is concerned and quote from an article by M. Iudin called “Our Economy Was Called a Free One Only Among Other CIS Economies:” “The American ‘Heritage’ Foundation and The Wall Street Journal published an annual report about a degree of economic freedom in various countries. The report covered 156 states, their economies were judged by 12 categories: trade, taxes, financial and banking policies, the government’s interference in the economy, respect for property rights, foreign investments, influence of the black market, etc. The marks ranged from 1 (the top mark) to 5. The report gave Russia 3.45 points and placed it on the 104th position together with Armenia and the Dominican Republic thus showing that complete economic freedom has not yet been achieved. Against the background of other former Soviet republics, however, the state of Russian economy is not that bad. Russia and Armenia share the second place among the CIS members immediately behind Moldavia with 3.35 points. We are ahead of Georgia (3.65), Ukraine (3.80), Kirghizia (4.00), Byelorussia (4.05), Kazakhstan (4.10), Azerbaijan (4.40), Tajikistan (4.40), and Turkmenistan (4.50).”3 Hong Kong, Singapore, Bahrain, New Zealand and Switzerland head the list with an identical mark of 1.25.
The CIS Media at the Service of National Identity and National Mentality and as an Instrument of the New Statehood
Identity is a very original product of the nation’s past and present. The media practices have shown that the masses are lost in this labyrinth. Take history for example. Journalists follow in the footsteps of national leaders and academics when they concentrate on, supply with arguments and carry further their choice of what is regarded as the most apt period detached from the rest of the nation’s history to build up on it a new ideology as an expression of identity. (In Kazakhstan such period is Farabi and the enlighteners of the 19th century, in Kyrgyzstan Manas and the enlighteners, in Uzbekistan, Amir Timur and the jadids.) The idea of Eurasia makes Kazakhstan the Central Asian leader because of its vast territory that connects the two continents—geography emphasizes the republic’s grandeur. The idea of Turkestan as a common home hints at Uzbekistan’s regional leadership that was in existence at the time of Turkestan as an official administrative unit. Turkmenistan that has no historical arguments weighty enough to claim leadership declared its neutrality thus cutting short all attempts to look at it as another member of any alliance. Each issue of all newspapers carries poems about the country and its president (instead of the habitual “Workers of All Countries, Unite!”): this is the best illustration of the national politics in the media sphere.
All this explains why journalists in all countries claiming leadership interpret attempts of other countries, even neighbors, to deprive them of such right as intrigues. There is no doubt that the national identity of this kind is a media product. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV are united in their efforts.
Guided by ideologists and journalists the media are working according to a consistent plan and logic and employ the skillfully selected methods of an emotional impact. Monroe Price is quite right when he says that millions of images swarming in the minds of the public help determine the nature of national identity, attitude to expanse, the family, government and the state.4 At one and the same time the media are subordinate to identity and are shaping it. In other words, they are an instrument of creating a new statehood that makes use of national identity and mentality.
V. Bukhtii has written that in 1997 the Russian press concentrated on the Russian idea and spiritual resurrection. This undoubtedly was caused by the president’s call to formulate a national idea made in summer 1996.5 Many newspapers and magazines explained why the Russian society had failed to ensure social, political and economic stability at that time. It was written, among other things, that throughout its history Russia had been following a mobilization development path or that Russian political culture contained certain elements of totalitarianism and traditional autocracy that hampered democratic development, etc. These discussions revived public interest in national identity and the media and attracted attention of the academic community. There appeared such works as G. Gachev’s “Mental’nost’ i natsional’niy kosmopsikhologos” (Mentality and National Cosmopsychologos) (Voprosy filosofii, No. 1, 1994), I. Gerasimov’s “Rossiiskaia mental’nost’ i modernizatsia,” (Russian Mentality and Modernization) (Obshchestvennye nauki i sovremennost, No. 4, 1994), V. Kantor’s “Meniaetsia li rossiiskaia mental’nost’” (Is Russian Mentality Undergoing Changes?) (Voprosy filosofii, No. 1, 1994), etc.
The state is formed through many factors embodied in social institutions. The media as an independent institution have a special role to play in establishing ties between all institutions and, through this, in creating an integral state. In relation to the wide popular masses the media reflect and popularize what the institutions are doing. The images created and disseminated in the media are no less or even more important for the purposes of creating an identity than other institutions. Journalism is a powerful instrument of shaping national identity and, through it, of building up a new statehood. Since the journalists are serving the state machine and lack independence the world of values and symbols they create helps the leaders to assert national identity that may have nothing in common with real identity.
The above suggests that the warning about “the captured instruments of images that will become as dangerous in the 21st century as mass destruction weapons”6 is quite correct. There is no doubt that journalism is a weapon of mass ideological contamination. In this respect any press, either truthful or lying, is a very efficient method of creating identities.
A national ideology or identity imposed on society has another specific feature: there are people in any country who criticize the postulates of the founders of a new statehood or even reject them. In such cases the leaders and journalists can use two tested methods: public opinion and laws. The former may fail while the latter never falters.
The Media’s New Possibilities and the Identity Problem
Radio and television along with the latest information technologies have radically changed the media’s possibilities. I have already said above that from the very beginning the newspapers and magazines tried to keep their impact on the masses within the limits their publishers found comfortable. The same applies to wired radio that predominated till the 1960s.
The situation changed in the early 1960s when broadcast TV and radio appeared. The ideological pillars of states became shaky when broadcast satellites were placed on near-earth orbits. Since the 1970s national mentalities, national journalism and statehood have been crumbling under the growing international impact on national media and nations.
The national leaders and the media were forced once again to work hard to keep nations within their orbit. This revived the national identity problem. Identity has become a modern form of an ideological impact on the nation also exposed to information pressure from abroad, and the key method through which the nation was protected against alien influences in the conditions when information crossed all borders. Massive and comprehensive information coming from abroad was blocked with similar, even more massive, carefully selected and highly polished information of special nature “for domestic use only.” To my mind, this is a very important trend in the development of journalism in the CIS countries. One can even say that the new media forced journalists and editors to actively work so that to create a national identity to preserve their influence on the people and society.
During the period of transition many of the CIS members were concerned with damming a telecommunication flood from the West. I. Izvekova has asked a straightforward question: “Are there boundaries that may help Russian journalism protect its independence and cut short the ‘ninth wave’ of pro-Western journalism?”7 The author has taken the enlightening activities of Lomonosov, Novikov, Radishchev, and Uspenskiy to point out that at its earliest period Russian journalism had national specifics and priorities. In the 19th century publicist writings and literature investigated the life of the man-in-the-street, “slum people” and tried to learn how people lived. This humanitarian paradigm included both rational and empirical criteria of knowledge as well as emotional and sensual elements. According to Izvekova the humanitarian paradigm expressed, in a concentrated form, “the most important and genetically inalienable principles and methods of creative activity of Russian journalism. Many years of practical activity proved that such activity was viable. Obviously, our journalism can oppose Western journalism.”8 Humanitarian ideology permits numerous interpretations of varying societies and cultures based on the uniform principles according to which global problems are resolved, conceptions of sustainable development adopted, commonly recognized human rights observed, etc.
Globalization as a Source of Contradictions Between the Market and Certain Forms of National Identity
Globalization is one of the main regularities of contemporary world development. It embraces all social spheres: politics, economy, culture, science, ecology, law, etc. and is unavoidable as a product of developing market relations. The global is an antipode of the national-territorial in the same way as the ideas of globalization are opposed to the idea of national identity (if it locks itself inside the “internally national” idea). The very nature of the media rebels against their containment inside national frontiers. Indeed, their purpose is to inform masses, therefore each editorial office, studio or company seeks as wide audience (readership) as possible even outside state borders. In this way, in the market conditions, one of the major functions of the media contradicts the very existence of such borders. The media are expected, among other things, to inform people, educate them and disseminate culture and services. If national identity is conditioned by national frontiers it is unable to withstand the pressure of international ideas that cross the borders without asking for permission.
Here is a paradox for you: not infrequently globalization helps create another, more real identity that exists along with the first one formed by the national media encouraged by the leaders within the national borders in a form they find most suitable. This encouragement produces distortions when the nation’s successes are inflated while its failures are concealed. The more independent mass media abroad create a second image of identity much closer to the nation’s internal state. The rest of the world prefers the second identity. If power changes the second identity is frequently shifted to domestic turf and becomes the first one.
Globalization cannot be assessed as a completely positive phenomenon. It can seriously damage mentality, public morals and the pillars of statehood if allowed to reign inside national borders.
Transfer to the Idea of a Harmony Between World and National Identity as an Expected Result
Globalization should be regarded as a positive phenomenon if we speak about depolitization as a method of the nations’ artificial containment within their state borders. It should not be supported if it wipes away cultural distinctions and ethnic originality, therefore national media have to distinguish between the former and the latter and act in the desired direction.
The new media that are actively informing the world destroy frontiers between states thus depriving certain elements of national identity (mainly nationalistic and outdated) of their old efficiency. The ideas of human rights, life style, the form of property, information means, etc. accepted the world over are spreading fast far and wide. In the new conditions journalists have to quickly revise their old notions. Toady all CIS countries are open to international information that exerts strong pressure on their national ideologies. The identity created by the media and the leaders is in fact an attempt at damming information and other forms of globalization—the attempt that is doomed to failure. Globalization of the media creates global audience. Under the new criteria international news can be regarded as local together with national news.
The developed states are obviously prone to information expansion and their technically well-equipped media can cope with this task. Yet not all of them, and not always, are aggressors—they are controlled by national and international structures designed to create a harmonious combination of the world and national identities. The main idea is very simple—each nation preserves its originality while becoming part of world identity.
Nearly all international instruments protect national identities: Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1953), Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976), and others. For example, the Television Without Frontier Directive has registered the right of any country that receives broadcasts from abroad to complain to international instances if such broadcasts damage its national identity.
There is an opinion that the world needs worldwide criteria of media functioning. Andrei Richter, editor of a Russian translation of Monroe Price’s book, completes his foreword with the following words: “In the period when globalization exerts multi-sided and dramatic impacts on our own processes it is vitally important to work out a trans-national set of principles based on the American and European approaches without a bias to any of them.”9 Unfortunately, he said nothing about the principles themselves. I believe that he probably had in mind common human values on which journalism of all countries should rest.
There is another important aspect in what Richter says: he mentioned the American and European approaches and let out Asia. The European approach is mainly based on the international instruments mentioned above. Americans went somewhat further: we all know that all Americans are declared a single nation and their passports contain no mention of their nationalities.
Let’s have a look at Asia. I believe that the Asian approach and the method of building up a harmony between the world and national identities may prove more promising. Economy as the basis of all societies testified in the last quarter of the 20th century that the Asiatic mode of production based on the communal nature undoubtedly has better prospects (Japan, the APR, China, etc.) than the European or American ones. It has withstood in the bitter competition with the EU and American corporations. It was national identity that served (in the broad sense) the key cultural and social institution on which new organizational forms of economy and competition were placed. In fact, economic flourishing and media development in the Asian leaders (Hong Kong, Singapore, Bahrain and others) stem from national identity with its communal-patriotic forms.
History repeats itself. In the past states had no borders—they existed because there were large cities in which power was concentrated. Today, despite border posts, tracking strips and control outposts the borders have become penetrable once more while states and nations preserve their sovereignties against the background of worldwide unity.
In this way national identity and mentality are two powerful instruments of a nation’s consolidation, its mobilization for the purposes of national renaissance and development. The decisive role in the process belongs to the national media. The practice of the last ten years has shown that national identity and mentality can be lopsided and serve a nation’s grandeur. This is inevitable at the early period while the nation is looking for identity. After several years the country should concentrate on common world criteria and values when realizing national development program. I am convinced that in the majority of the CIS countries this process has been dragging on while national values still dominate the common world values. This is one of the media’s major faults in the independence period.
1 Ia.N. Zasurskiy, “Informatsionnoe obshchestvo: telekommunikatsionniy i pravovoi aspekty,” Introduction to M. Price’s Televidenie, telekommunikatsii i perekhodniy period, Moscow University Press, Moscow, 2000, p. 6.
2 L.M. Zemlianova, Sovremennaia amerikanskaia kommunikativistika, MGU Press, Moscow, 1995, p. 83.
3 Izvestia, 3 December, 1997.
4 See: M. Price, op. cit., p. 13.
5 See: V.V. Bukhtii, “Na styke dvukh mirov,” Zhurnalistika v 1997 g. Tezisy nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii, Moscow, 1998, p. 4.
6 M. Price, op. cit., p. 70.
7 I.V. Izvekova, “Gumanitarnaia paradigma otechestvennoi zhurnalistiki,” Aktsenty. Novoe v massovoi kommunikatsii, Voronezh, Issie 3-4, 1999, p. 32.
8 Ibid, p. 36.
9 A.G. Richter, “Predislovie,” in: M. Price, op. cit., p. 8.