Monday, June 20, 2016

Russian Nationalism Breeding Its Nemesis: Increasingly Angry and Radicalized Non-Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – The ever more vulgar, offensive, and even racist qualities of some kinds of Russian nationalism, including that of many politicians and government officials, are rapidly generating their nemesis: increasingly radicalized nationalism among many of the peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation.

            Today, for example, members of the Sakha nationality have reacted with anger to the statement of Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky that he is very much put off by the large number of “Asiatic faces” on cartoons that Russian children watch (

                The Sakha tell Dozhd television that they are very much ashamed to live in a country where a minister of culture could make such uncultured statements and remain in office, an indication they suggest that far more people in Moscow share his bigoted views than the narrow circle of his most vociferous Russian nationalist supporters.

            A more serious and extended discussion of the ways in which Russian nationalist expressions are radicalizing non-Russians is provided by Buryat scholar Zurtan Khaltarov who explains both why such Russian actions are radicalizing his people and why the Russians nonetheless feel they must offer them in order to mobilize the Russian world.

            In an interview with the AsiaRussia portal, Khalturov discusses the introduction by the Bolsheviks and then the Russians popularized highly offensive terms for the Buryats and thus promoted the growth of pro-Moscow “Buryatophobes” among all non-Buryats in that republic (

            “It is no secret,” the Buryat scholar says, “that in present-day Buryatia, the so-called pro-Russian community includes representatives of various ethnic groups who lost their ties with their own native peoples as a result of exile and katorga” and are united only by “the propaganda of Buryatophobia as the single means of joining themselves to the Russian world.”

            For those in this group, he continues, “the only possibility to show themselves is to stand in opposition to some ‘dangerous elements’ which are trying to destroy Russia. And if these do not exist, then it is necessary to think them up,” something that presents few challenges given Russia’s history and diversity.

            This can be seen in the case of the now widely used denigration of Buryats as “Burnatsiki,” a slighting diminutive with clear connotations of the Soviet-era term “bourgeois nationalists.”  The “bur” of course in Buryatia can refer both to the titular nationality and to that formerly disgraced class.

            There are four reasons the pro-Moscow Russian nationalists have begun spreading this term: First, they want to invent “a Buryat threat” in order to unite pro-Moscow people and to justify repressions.  Second, they want to suggest that Buryats aren’t patriotic but rather involved in some “pan-Mongol” schemes, even though the latter aren’t banned by Russian law.

            Third, by adding the diminutive suffice “-ik,” these pro-Moscow figures are seeking to attach it to all Buryats and thus transform it into “a kind of yellow ‘Star of David’” for them in order to ghettoize the nation. Russians are doing the same thing by adding diminutive endings to other nations like the Tatars, Tuvins, Yakuts, and so on, Khalturov notes.

            And fourth, the Russians can’t help themselves. They are projecting their own hatred onto others just as they did in the past with their anti-Semitism and Judophobia.  For all these reasons, he continues, Buryats must insist that “we are not Burnatski” as the Russians imagine, “but rather Buryat nationalists” who are proud of that fact.

            Both Russians and Buryats must understand, Khalturov continues, that those “rocking the boat” in Buryatia are the ones with “imperial ambitions,” something the Buryats who do not number more than 300,000 in the world as aa whole cannot have and do not aspire to.  But they do have goals, and those include an end to discrimination and repression.

            The Buryats understand that one can’t cure problems like this by decree and that the only way is for those who have been victims to press their case until those who are victimizing them change their approach.  That isn’t easy: It may even require sending Buryats abroad so that they can learn to be Buryats rather than become the deracinated “Burnatski”  Moscow wants.

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