U.S. leaders and public intellectuals rarely fuss much over national identity -- even as the ethnic balance in the United States approaches a historic tipping point -- but the Russians and their post-Soviet neighbors do. The turmoil resulting from hurtling from one political and economic life to another wrecked the ballast of past values, frail as they had become, leaving each country's new leadership and elite much distracted by the need to build a refurbished base for the national idea. Add the inescapable and often competing effects of globalization, and the challenge of fashioning new national identities inspiring unity, attachment, and sacrifice in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia -- the three countries Blum compares -- grows mightily. Blum's focus is how the state and various nonstate actors go about distinguishing healthy from unhealthy values and then promoting the right ones among the young. Blum has produced a tightly argued and empirically rich yet succinct comparative portrait -- one deeply conversant with the immense literature on social and political identity. He finds that for all the differences, in the three countries the state and its de facto auxiliaries have wrestled in roughly similar fashion with the problems of parrying unwanted external influences, embracing those influences useful to modernization, and producing a workable amalgam respecting distinctive national values key to their agenda while also making room for the best globalization has to offer.
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