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Identity and intercultural relations in post-Soviet space

Priority areas of development: humanitarian
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Aim of the project: to identify social psychological factors (identity, interethnic attitudes, social representations, trust, values) that facilitate mutual integration of ethnic minorities and majorities on the territory of the former Soviet Union. 

Methodology: social psychological survey, content analysis, expert interviews, factorial survey

Empirical base of the project:

  • Empirical data of the survey on intergenerational and culture specific differences in the effects of identity on the attitudes towards intercultural relations of ethnic minority and majority in the republics of North Caucasus (North Ossetia-Alania: N=645 and Kabardino-Balkaria: N=249);
  • Empirical data of the survey on the role of trust in preferences for acculturation strategies of ethnic minorities and acculturation expectations of host population in Russia and Latvia (N=497);
  • Empirical data of the survey of Russian immigrants in Belgium (N=132);
  • Empirical data of the survey on acculturation of Russians in Latvia (N=224 and N=220);
  • Empirical data of 8 expert interviews and factorial survey of the role of outgroups’ perceived characteristics in social distance (N=616);
  • Empirical data of content-analysis of 33 Russian textbooks (the total number of 1869 observations have been used).


Within this project, we analyzed and empirically tested the effects of a variety of social psychological characteristics on the integration of ethnic minority and majority in post-Soviet states. Summarizing the results, we conclude that social identity (ethic, national, religious, regional), motivation for ethnic and cultural continuity in older and younger generations, perceived social distance, social capital (specifically trust as its key component), the way of presenting majority and minorities members in school textbooks are the most significant social psychological predictors of mutual integration of ethnic minority and majority. Below we discuss the effects of each predictor.

  1. The results of studying social identity in three generations of Russians (ethnic minority) and Ossetians (ethnic majority) in North Ossetia-Alania revealed a more complex pattern of acculturation strategies and expectations compared to typical roles of  majority and minority. This fact indicates significant integration of two groups that have lived at the same territory for a long period. The results on the proportion of one’s own cultural identity and identity with the other culture are of particular interest. Firstly, these two types of identity are positively interrelated both in groups of Russians and Ossetians in all three generations. Secondly, in most cases, they facilitate integration and inhibit assimilation.
  2. The results of the study on the sample of Russians in Kabardino-Balkaria revealed a significant role of perceived incompatibility of two identities (“I am Russian” and “I am the citizen of North Caucasus”) in a person’s choice of acculturation strategy. The results demonstrated that perceived identity incompatibility mediated the effect of perceived discrimination on integration, separation and marginalization. In addition, it contributed to the rejection of integration (makes negative effect of perceived discrimination stronger) and facilitates the choice of separation and marginalization. In this study, we described for the first time the psychological mechanism underlying the effects of perceived discrimination on ethnic minorities’ acculturation.
  3. Data from Russia and Latvia showed that specific types of trust (an important component of social capital) are related to acculturation strategies of migrants (or minorities) and acculturation expectations of host population. Generalized trust was found to be a positive predictor of the preferences for integration and multiculturalism (in members of minorities and majority accordingly). Trust toward ingroup or outgroup members had an independent effect on ethnic minority’s preference for acculturation strategy: trust toward ethnic outgroups was positively associated with preference for integration, while trust toward ingroup was positively associated with preference for separation. None of the types of trust was significantly associated with marginalization and separation.
  4. The results of the study on motivation for ethnocultural continuity on two generations of Russians in Latvia revealed that it was positively associated with preferences for integration in parents and separation in children, and negatively associated with preference for assimilation and marginalization in both generations. At the same time, motivation for ethnocultural continuity of parents was positively associated with the same motivation of children; however, it did not directly affect children’s acculturation strategies. Integration was the only strategy that was positively associated with one of the indicators of psychological well-being – self-esteem (in the generation of children).
  5. We conducted the study on mutual perception of ethnic groups living in Russia, and on group characteristics that determine the extent of positivity of group image and harmony of intergroup relations. We found that Ukrainians, Russians, Tatars and Bashkirs were perceived more positively, while Armenians and Azerbaijanis were perceived more negatively. People that had no religious affiliation, no higher education and those who migrated to Russia illegally were perceived as most distant. The comparison of ethnic groups showed that ethnicity was the most important characteristic for Bashkirs, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, while religious affiliation - for all groups except Russians and Tatars. Each group gave first preference to their own religion, and second preference to those who did not believe in God (except Azerbaijanis who perceived non-believers as most distant), and the last preference to representatives of other religious denominations. It is important to mention that ethnic identity did not affect perception of outgroups in the sample of Russians, which was on average rather positive for all outgroups.
  6. We analyzed the content of Russian textbooks in order to evaluate the image of different social groups, which they form, and the type of model of group cohesion (social order or social fairness), which underlies this image. We found that social order (important for protection against external threat and internal contradictions) was the basis for group cohesion in Soviet times. The same pattern is reproduced in post-Soviet textbooks. However, the ingroup (“Us”) is now a primary group (family), not the state, or the country, in the Soviet time.  In contemporary textbooks, social fairness is represented as a relationship between individual and nature. It is important to mention that both in Soviet and Russian textbooks, “Us” is an ethnic majority, which defines norms regulating behavior.

Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results. The results have been used for the development and elaboration of trainings of ethnocultural competence of migrants and host population in the North-Caucasian Federal District.

Scope of application:

The results can be useful for:

  • The development of specialized courses for civil servants working in the sphere of interethnic relationships;
  • The development of social programs aimed at harmonization of interethnic relationships in Russian society;
  • Teaching at universities within the courses of ethnic, cross-cultural psychology, ethnic sociology, and psychology of conflict.


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