Ethnic assimilation is a partial or complete loss of national features by individuals presenting a certain ethnos (as a rule minor in both quantity and public status) under influence of quantitatively and socially dominant ethnos, destruction of the ethnic dwelling environment, intensive urbanization. In general, it is an ethno-cultural shift in consciousness of a certain social group, presenting earlier different community in the sense of language, religion or culture (Kivisto 15).
In the process of interpenetration and merging separate individuals and groups are provided with memories, feelings, and settings of other people and groups and sharing common experience and history; together they get engaged into common cultural life. In the extent, in which assimilation means this commonness of tradition, it is the direct participating in common experience (Kivisto 17). Assimilation is a central direction in the historical and cultural process.
Assimilation also describes the process of cultural features adoption through emigration to a country with other culture.
It is possible to determine two basic types of assimilation (Wilcox 562):
1. Complete assimilation. (For example, when a person, whose the ancestors were American Indians, starts feeling and naming himself American This change takes place not only at conscious but also at subconscious level.).
2. Partial assimilation. (For example, when a person remaining American Indian simultaneously becomes American, and joins common system of values and hierarchy, and acting quite consciously).
Assimilation is conditioned by numeral or sociocultural inequality of ethnic groups. Internationalization of life, expansion of international communication, growth of the nation-mixed families became objective basis of assimilation (Wilcox 559).
An individual is born without feelings of ethnic belonging. Ethnicity is educated mainly during the first 3-5 years after birth on the base of communication. What is close, familiar, and pleasant for a child in the first years of its life, determines its ethnic belonging. The leading role in maintenance of ethnic commonness is played now by the system of ethnic values: above all things, it’s certainly, the native language, interest to the historical roots, presence of the own state system, aspiration to consolidation (Breton 31).
As a result of cultural assimilation whole countries appeared, in particular Brazil. At the end of XIX century it was intensively populated by immigrants from Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan and countries of Mediterranean. Immigrants gradually assimilated in the common culture which was created on crossing of the Portuguese, African and Latin-American cultures. Brazil presents a «melting pot» even in a greater degree, than the USA and Canada (Breton 45).
Assimilation is a two-sided process, in which every group has possibilities for penetration of their culture into other groups proportionally to the size, prestige and other factors (Wilcox 570). The process of assimilation is best of all illustrated by the example of americanization of immigrants, arriving from Europe and Asia. Arriving in great numbers in 1850-1913, immigrants mainly formed immigrant colonies in the cities of the North of the USA. Inside these ethnic colonies, as if they were small Italy or small Poland, they lived mainly in accordance with the standards of the European culture, perceiving some complexes of the American culture. However, their children begin to reject the culture of parents very sharply and absorb the culture of the new motherland. They often enter into a conflict with parents concerning the problem of following old cultural standards. As for the third generations, their americanization is practically completed and newly made Americans feel most comfortable and usual in the American standards of culture. Thus, the culture of small group assimilated in the culture of large group (Breton 56).
Assimilation is defined as immigrant’s participation in the life of community he lives in. From this point of view, participation is both a mean and a purpose of assimilation. Participation of immigrant in the life of the dominant nation, in any of its areas, prepares him to participation in any other of its area. More than anything else an immigrant and alien needs possibility of participation. Assimilation is achieved not through suppression of past reminiscences, but through including them into a new life. Life itself will be able to successfully force out immigrant’s reminiscences. Immigrant’s involvement into the common life is better reached in collaboration which is directed not so much in the past, as in the future. Next generations of immigrants will be already able to fully share new memories, but actually everything, that we can require from an immigrant born abroad, is sharing newly obtained ideals, expectations and common initiatives (Kivisto 128)
The most alerting aspect here is that assimilation is a process, which is not usually conscious; an individual appears involved in common group life before he realizes it and not really understanding the course of events, which stipulated this involvement. The more intimate and sophisticated are the changes engaged into assimilation, the more gradual they are (Wilcox 573). Naturally, assimilation flows most quickly, when social contacts are more close and intensive. Thus, slavery was the most effective invention for assimilation advancement. For the closest interconnections of group members a common language is needed; its absence is an insuperable barrier for assimilation. Changes in language, taking place during contacts, conflicts and confluences of races and nationalities, give information for more adequate description of assimilation process.
Linguistic assimilation, i.e. complete or partial loss of the native language can be considered a particular case of assimilation. Its final stage is either changing of ethnicity (obtainment of new ethnic properties at complete or almost complete loss of native ones), or deethnization (loss of own national, cultural and linguistic features without adequate replacement by the new ones). The latter is the most pernicious for both an individual and the world culture and humanity on the whole, because it leads individuals to ethnic, and, consequently, social marginalization; to the insufficient competence in any languages; and also reduces and impoverishes the world inventory of ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic alternatives (Kivisto 208). An example of deethnization is forming of the ethnicless Yugoslavs in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It’s clear, that it did not do a power of good for cultural and social development of the country, leading to the dramatically inevitable end.
Assimilation can be of both voluntarily (avocation by another more developed or attractive culture; international and interconfessional marriages, etc.) and forced (violent) character (conquest, numeral externination, forced migration, legislative activity directed on suppression of one or another cultural-linguistic displays) (Wilcox 576). Blacks in the USA has always been an ethnic minority. During 200 years, since times of slavery, they absorbed the features of the dominant national culture. Assimilation can proceed till complete dissolution in a new culture and loss of the cultural originality.
The government can encourage tolerance to other cultures and make it the basic principle of interrelation among people, but it can also run the policy of ethnocentrism, i.e. forced imposing norms and values of dominating culture to the national minorities.
The similar form of cultural policy is inherent to the most different states, even those considered the citadel of democracy and civility. Such policy can include long-term actions, for example, extrusion of ethnic groups to uncomfortable climatic areas. As a result of the lasting residence in unfavorable conditions the standard of living and health of an ethnic group decline fast (Breton 139).
For example, since 1984 in Bulgaria the Turkish speaking minority, making 10% of country’s population, was exposed to violent bulgarization: mosques were closed; it was officially forbidden to speak Turkish, wear traditional clothes, and distribute Koran. Authorities demanded to change Turkish names and last names to Bulgarian ones. When the representatives of Turkish minority began to resist, the government of Bulgaria started confiscating their lands and arresting their leaders. It is a policy of violent assimilation.
So, providing of cohabitation of different ethnic groups within the borders of a single society and stability of public development in it presents a serious problem for every multiethnic state. Therefore a number of international documents have appeared lately, such as UN Declaration about the Rights of the Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Language Minorities, Frame convention of Council of Europe on Protection of National Minorities, Recommendation of Committee of the ministers of Council of Europe Teaching Lnguages of Contiguous States in Frontier Regions. These legal acts are directed on the search of methods for harmonization of relations which ethnic groups enter daily. In a strategic prospect, creating a way of friendly environment of interethnic communication without the change of society’s multiethnicity is considered to be the best solution.
Achievement of this purpose would encourage both satisfaction of ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic interests of all citizens of the state and maintainance of its unity and integrity. However, there still remains a question, if successive advancement in this way and realization of such purpose are possible in practice.