Accessibility links

N.Y. Russian Community Reacts to September 11 - 2002-09-05

English Feature #7-35681 Broadcast December 17, 2001

Close to a half million Russian speakers live in New York City. Shortly after terrorists flew their hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center, Russian-born sociologist Samuel Kliger conducted a survey to determine the reaction of the Russian community to the attacks. Today on New American Voices he talks about the survey and his findings.

Samuel Kliger says that--like all New Yorkers --the Russian community was shaken by the events of September 11th.

"All New York was terrified, and the Russian community especially, because we are immigrants and they don't know what to expect. One of our clients put it very interestingly. He said, 'We came here for safety and security. There's no safe place in the world any more.'"

Samuel Kliger surveyed two hundred Russian-speaking immigrants, mostly from the European part of Russia and from two republics of Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. The questions were aimed at discovering the degree of both solidarity and divisiveness among Russian speakers in the aftermath of September 11th.

"What is interesting is that people exposed a very strong degree of solidarity - in-group solidarity, solidarity with America, and solidarity with their former homeland, but they're quite divisive [divided] in explanation, I would say, in ideology, in understanding what is going on. The explanation - that's the most difficult part for them to understand."

The most widespread explanation among the Russian speakers for the terrorist attacks was what Samuel Kliger calls the economic theory.

"It deals with the old myth that all in this world is done because of money and oil. I would say that about 20 to 40 percent of Russians said, 'Well, that's about money, that's about oil, that's about the whole idea of…' -- because Russia now - the former Soviet Union - doesn't have much ideology, the main ideology is how to make money, how to survive and so on. So the economic theory is kind of popular."

Another popular explanation for the attacks was what Mr. Kliger calls the "Israel theory", the idea that America brought the attacks on itself by its support of Israel. Others expressed the cultural/religious theory -- that Muslim civilization is at war with the Judeo-Christian civilization. Mr. Kliger adds that there were many other scenarios, ideas, rumors, myths and "exotic" suggestions.

"My interpretation - and I would say it probably, if I may, I would say it even to the American government, and to everybody - is that ideology is very important. Explanation is very important. People need some kind of understanding. Of course they show solidarity, because it's a big calamity, it's a catastrophe, and in any catastrophe people would like to be together, to stay together. At the same time ideology is very confusing. People don't understand with whom we are at war."

Despite their uncertainty about the reasons for the attacks, the people surveyed generally approved the American actions taken in response.

"The difference is, for example, to what extent do you support or oppose the American war in Afghanistan against the Taleban and Osama bin Ladin, and 72 percent of Russian immigrants said completely support, but 90 percent of immigrants from Central Asia said completely support. So they're even more supportive on this operation."

The survey, Samuel Kliger says, pointed out some general characteristics of New York's Russian-speaking community.

"Number one, Russian immigrants in general, including immigrants from the republics of Central Asia, are quite loyal to America and to the American government at this particular point. The second generalization is, again, that they don't have an explanation, that they are confused in trying to explain to themselves and to the broader community what it going on."

Seventy-eight Russian-speaking immigrants working in the World Trade Center perished as a result of the attacks on Sept. 11th. Mr. Kliger says this generated sympathy and concern in the Russian community, and revealed another characteristic.

"The Russian community, despite the fact that it's big enough, is quite communicative, I would say. People call each other. I got hundreds of calls during this period of time from people whom I haven't seen in years. They called, they asked, 'How are you, what are you doing, what happened to you?' and so on. Kind of a very close community."

Samuel Kliger plans to conduct similar surveys among other ethnic groups in New York, including Albanians, Chinese, and immigrants from the Caribbean.