From Global Voices:
The Upsetting Ethnic Taxonomy of Russia’s Richest Businessmen
Posted 28 October 2014 22:14 GMT
One of Russia’s most popular news websites, the once vaunted Lenta.ru, finds itself at the center of a scandal today, after publishing an ethnic breakdown of Russia’s 200 richest people. According to the study, 44.5 percent of Russia’s wealthiest citizens are ethnically Russian, 21 percent are Jewish, 12 percent are Ukrainian, followed by smaller percentages of Tatars, Armenians, and a dozen or so other nationalities. “Overall,” the report concludes questionably, “it’s clear how different ethnic groups in a multiethnic country have used a collaborative solidarity and response to the beginning of the ‘capitalist era’ to build a new kind of economic and political life.”
Lenta’s study is based on Forbes’ 2014 ratings of Russia’s “200 Richest Businessmen,” though Elmar Murtazaev, Forbes’ chief editor, has already criticized the ethnic breakdown.
On Facebook, Murtazaev questioned Lenta’s judgment, implying that Forbes has considered analyzing the nationalities of its “top 200” list, but rejected the idea every year for the last decade. “What was published isn’t an investigation,” he argued online, calling Lenta’s work “nothing more than pure speculation.”
(Indeed, Lenta’s authors themselves admit that many individuals on Forbes’ list don’t advertise their nationality, making it difficult to assign labels.)
Murtazaev isn’t the only one upset about Lenta’s study. Nikolai Svanidze, a media personality and a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber (a consultative body within the Kremlin), says Lenta’s article is racist—even fascist. Natalia Gevorkyan, another prominent Russian journalist, also disliked the piece, asking on Facebook if its publication embarrassed Alexander Mamut, who ranks 42nd on Forbes’ list and owns Lenta’s parent group, Rambler & Co.
In today’s world, it’s the duty of the media to comfort the comfortable. How dare journalists publish anything about billionaires that the billionaires would prefer hoi polloi not be informed about?
… As it happens, this isn’t the first time a Russian news site published an ethnic breakdown of Forbes’ top-200 richest men in Russia. Two years ago, Pavel Pryanikov’s website Ttolk.ru posted a nearly identical study (with roughly the same findings) that also looked at businessmen’s class history (tracking their socioeconomic trajectories from Soviet times). On Facebook, Pryanikov reminded readers of his website’s “been there, done that” accomplishment, and pointed out that it is hypocritical for Murtazaev to attack Lenta, as Forbes itself has ranked the world’s richest Jews and Armenians.
There are undoubtedly many reasons for apprehensions about Lenta’s study. Methodologically, it’s nearly impossible to establish the ethnicity of many of Russia’s oligarchs (whose mixed heritage defies classification). Ethically, on the other hand, liberals in Russia are averse to racial taxonomies that threaten to stir ethnic tensions. Indeed, the chief finding in both Lenta’s article and Pryanikov’s study is that ethnic Russians are heavily underrepresented in the Russian elite, relative to their numbers in the general population. Presumably, and perhaps justifiably, Russian nationalists’ critics fear statistics like these could catapult their adversaries to political prominence.
The single most dangerous worry since 1914 is that of a major land war in central and eastern Europe. Therefore, it’s important to debunk false assumptions that stoke perilous hatreds involving that region. One of the most destabilizing and least true myths at present is the widespread belief in the U.S. that the Putin regime in Russia is anti-Semitic.
By all objective evidence, Putin would be considered pro-Semitic, as is often pointed out by Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. But Putin’s revival of state power in Russia has triggered old Jewish-American anti-Czarist reflexes.
In reality, Jews are doing extremely well under the pro-Semitic Putin, being disproportionately represented in the ranks of Russia’s billionaires by perhaps a couple of orders of magnitude. That’s an important fact that shouldn’t be hushed up: knowing the truth can help cool off the war fever.