There was an interesting article in Al Akhbar two days ago about an estimated 1100 Russian women living in Nabatieh, married with locals, and engaged in all sorts of social activities from working in hospitals to teaching music. There is an important point worth mentioning here and that is the interesting cultural mix that results from Russian-(south of)Lebanon exposure. Lebanese that flew to Russia have I would speculate a ‘leftist’ past, and still are pretty much immersed in these ideas even if sometimes through a Shi’ite narrative. Here, I am not trying to say that behind ‘Shi’ism’ lies Leftism far from it as Leftism itself is a historical construct, but just that similar social concerns and perspective of reality and social life are serving as basis for action. And this is probably why Russian women can get along with them.
Last summer, I met a former Communist fighter who was married to a Russian woman of whom he had two kids. When I asked him about his political views and history of activism, he told me how he was attracted by the social ideals of the communist party (that had an influential institutional presence in the south) in the 60s and 70s and how he still abides by them while having a total respect for Hizbullah. He told me about how he used to carry out operations against the Israelis alongside Hizbullah although without directly coordinating with the latter. His wife is an ex gymnast champion, and his daughter who was probably 10 years old was set to become one. She exemplifies the former soviet culture of ‘State achievement’ that many Soviet went through. Her husband was very much versed into this public-state organic relation.
But beyond this, if you are looking for a public culture in Lebanon, this is where you should search primarily. Most of these people have studied in the mostly abandoned state-owned public schools, and later on universities. As an example, the vice-secretary general of Hizbullah Naim Qassem is a chemistry graduate of the Lebanese university. People who have actually used the little amount of public services offered by the Lebanese state are mostly Shi’a from the south, the Bekaa and the suburbs of the capital. It is ironic today that people accusing Hizbullah of having no ‘culture of the Lebanese state’, as it installs ‘a state within a state’ do not realize that paradoxically it is quite the reverse: Most of these people have a much more attuned sense of what the Lebanese State can potentially offer because they experienced it in their everyday life and had to make their choices of work, carrier, etc. based on that. Unfortunately today, Hizbullah risk slowly becoming like the rest of the Lebanese that is to use the State for opportunistic reason, as a front for more effectively fulfilled confessional-clientelist interests.
There are also other portions of the population whether Christians, Sunnis, Druze or what have you that also have been around these genuinely public institutions. Unfortunately, they are still locked in confessional political constraints and forced to be represented by their parochial elites. On another note, most of the richer classes of people across confessions, or let say those who managed to pay for their kids not to go in these schools and put them (gladly for most of them) in specifically confessional schools (which is the majority of schools that are privately held) have zero ‘public culture’ as in Lebanese in a comprehensive way. So here you go, do the math (it is my new favorite expression by the way).