Zhirinovsky’s Suggestion that Buryats Aren’t a Distinct Nation Echoes in the Transbaikal
March 24 – Two weeks ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of
Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, declared that the Buryats are not a separate
nationality but rather the product of a Bolshevik policy to split them from the
Mongols of Mongolia. The Federation Council has now condemned his words, but
that is far from the end of the story.
one hand, many Buryats resent Zhirinovsky’s insinuation that they aren’t a
“real” nation and wonder how they should respond.And on the other, some Buryats are interested
in cultivating ties with the Mongols and would like to see a return to the times
when they were known as Buryat Mongols and their republic as Buryat-Mongolia.
an article for the AsiaRussia.ru portal, Buryat commentator Seremzhid
Intogarova considers the ways in which Buryats are now thinking about “how to
live” after Zhirinovsky’s statement and what that means for their future with
regard to Russia and Mongolia (asiarussia.ru/articles/11725/).
reaction of Buryats to Zhirinovsky’s declaration has ranged from “nervous
chuckles to Homeric laughter,” Intogarova says, particularly because in Soviet
times, any such suggestion would have had the most horrific consequences for
those who made it.And that means that
now, Buryats and others cannot fail to consider what the LDPR leader’s words
portend for them.
is of course the case that the Bolsheviks preferred to think that “there are no
Mongols in Russia,” not only because they wanted to set the Buryat Mongols off
from the Khalka Mongols of Mongolia, she writes, but also because they did not
like to think about the fact that the Mongols under Chingiz Khan inflicted on
Russia one of its greatest defeats while giving rise to some of Russia’s most
has had consequences for the Buryats and more seem to be ahead, if
Zhirinovsky’s statement reflects the thinking of many in Moscow, Intogarova
continues. Mongolia has profited by attracting tourists to sites connected with
Chingiz Khan, but “up to now” there are no such sites within the Russian
borders even though there certainly could be.
the issue is bigger than that, she says. “In the contemporary world, states
devote enormous efforts to win for themselves prestige, authority and the
respect of their neighbors. In that process, the historical heritage plays far
from the last role.” In many ways, Russia could profit from recognizing the
Buryats as Mongols. It could even be a form of “soft power” in Asia.
Petr Badmayev and Agvan Dorzhiyev contributed to tsarist diplomacy in Asia in
pre-revolutionary times; and Buryats played a key role in the acquisition of
Mongol independence and its later defense against Japan even later, Intogarova
for a long time has been part of a large state,” she writes. “Buryats among
other citizens of Russia more than once have helped their neighbors defend
their independence, language and culture.Baron Ungern, a subject of the Russian Empire, in whose forces there were
Russians, Tatars, and Buryats helped Mongolia defend its independence from
multitude of Buryats, called to serve during World War II, fought in the ranks
of the Soviet Army at Khalkin Gol defending Mongolia against Japan.[And] residents of the Chinese Peoples
Republic and the Korean Peoples Democratic Republic to this day show respect to
Soviet soldiers who liberated them from Japanese aggressors.”
outcomes of military-political events are a measure of peoples. Man does not
live by bread alone,” and as long as that remains so, the Buryat commentator
continues, peoples will be measured in that way,” especially in Asia where
memories of past victories and past defeats remain very much alive.
the 20th century, Intogarova continues, “there were no Mongols in
Russia; there were [only] Buryats. Soviet school textbooks seriously declared
that when the Cossacks arrived in Siberia, the Buryats already were able to
work iron.” And “Soviet ideologists actively developed the theory that the
Buryats came into the Baikal not so long ago,” driving out others.
the 21st century, if Zhirinovsky is to be believed, “suddenly it
turns out that there are no Buryats in Russia; there are only Mongols.” If that
is true, then concerns about genuine pan-Mongolism are certain to spread
because thanks to the LDPR leader, they will be given a powerful impulse.
not have to ask themselves who they are, Intogarova concludes, because
Zhirinovsky has told them that their nation does not exist.And how they answer that question will have
important consequences for the future, consequences far beyond what the LDPR
leader may have thought.