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Why Liberal American College Students Will Never Understand the Russians

05/01/2014 08:21 pm ET | Updated Jul 01, 2014

One could safely assert that at the majority of American liberal arts colleges, students are supposed to be constantly working towards the success of multiculturalism, globalization and tolerance. The plethora of student groups on Wesleyan's campus back up this assertion: from the upcoming Hunger Banquet designed to promote knowledge of global inequality to the much anticipated Holi event put on by the South Asian Shakti group, Wesleyan students do not ever seem to falter in their promotion of diversity on campus.

The Russian Ministry of Culture's newly released draft of a "state cultural policy" sets up almost too perfectly the deep chasm that exists between America's and Russia's understanding of the other's cultural stance.

Ever since the March annexation of the Crimean peninsula, Russia has begun to turn away from the European path it has followed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Up until now, America has treated Russia with the condescension of a time-weary adult helping a struggling child grow to follow in its shoes, and has not paid much attention to the fact that Russia was not, in any way, trying to be another America. In fact, it has taken until now for the US to realize that Russia is really and truly denying a European identity in favor of an extreme devotion to a national Russian individuality.

The first five points of new cultural policy draft seek to define and therefore normalize Russian culture, with its ideal final form one unified Russian culture based in historicism -- an idea which seems to exclude the possibility of multiculturalism. However, the Russians don't want to merely hint at this exclusion; the very title of point six "renounces the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance". This point explains that distinct cultures, once they enter the Russian Empire, are much better off shedding their individual cultural practices in favor of the superior Russian identity. The document mentions how the Northern Caucuses were saved from future bloodshed (due to their society based on Sharia law) by their complete phase into Russian culture.

The implementation of a scientific search for what norms and traditions will be included in the Russian culture harkens back to the failed scientific atheism of the Soviet era; this appears to be a second time that Russians are attempting to use science to quantify non-scientific entities.

The seventh point adds that it is necessary to fight to protect all Russian language speakers, both inside and outside of Russia, which seems to be a foreshadowing of future invasions to protect Russian speakers in nearby countries such as Moldova or Kazakhstan. Point nine says that contemporary art should be monitored by the state to make sure it has no negative moral affect on society. Imagine that censorship being imposed on the kind of contemporary art often showed in American museums (where I am often accosted with violent, political imagery during visits, most recently projections of the Boston Marathon bombing in a room filled with larger-than-life plush replications of human genitalia).

The document ends with the express desire to form an ideal citizen, a "complete man," an even clearer reference to a time in the not so distant past, where Russian propaganda was overrun with its desire to create the ideal Soviet citizen: a man who cared about family, but cared more about work, a man who had no religion but science, a man who played chess in the evening as his only pastime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent passing of a new law that imposes obligations on migrants applying for residency permits to know the Russian language, history, and laws shows that the draft of the cultural bill will not be a draft for long.

Most of the world seems to see Russia as either a country still struggling recover from the Soviet era, or as a mere non-entity, an unimportant, blustering country that often has to be appeased or scolded in turn, so it is not unusual that the seemingly lightening-quick "purported" invasion of Ukraine by Russia took many Americans by surprise.

Russian is neither a struggling country nor a non-entity in the international sphere. It is a strongly individualistic nation that is rounding the point of no return in its separation from European culture. Russia appears to presently believe that it took a wrong turn twenty years ago, and is now forcibly ending the post-Soviet era--an era that America assumed was going to continue in perpetuity.

American college students, with the many clubs, teachers, classes, books, etc. all calling for them to be hearty soldiers in the fight for diversity, multiculturalism, globalization, and tolerance, have no comprehension as to why Russia can dismiss all the ostensible benefits of multiculturalism with one paragraph in a government bill. They don't understand a culture in which the needs of the historical, preexisting culture triumph can entirely the needs of the immigrant's individuality. And I believe that American liberal arts students should begin to learn, if not to understand, the motivations behind these Russian policies. We did not grow up in the first Cold War, but it seems we will be growing up in the second.