Staunton, August 27 – Like most other large nations, ethnic Russians are divided into various sub-ethnic groups, people culturally and even linguistically distinct from the dominant community. But if Russian officials have often sought to exploit such divisions in other nations within the Russian empire, they have been leery of discussing those among ethnic Russians.
That makes any description of these communities especially valuable especially since under Vladimir Putin’s educational “optimization,” schools in their dialects have been closed and these communities, which survived the 1917 revolution and the Soviet system are now at risk of dying out.
Aleksandr Sidorov, a journalist for the Lenta.ru news agency, recently visited one of these groups, the roughly 1500 surviving members of the Katskari in Yaroslavl oblast, a group that despite being only a few hundred kilometers from Moscow is in fact another and very different world (lenta.ru/articles/2016/08/25/kazkari/).
Katskari, he writes, is “the self-designation of a small sub-ethnic group of the Russian people, a territorial community historically isolated from others. The residents of several dozen villages located along the banks of the Kadki River in Yaroslavl oblast call themselves that” in distinction to other Russians to this day.
“Today,” the journalist continues, “they number a little more than 1500 people and all of them are connected one way or another by blood ties. They preserve the communal way of life and remember their own ancestors to the tenth generation, that is, in fact, to those of the end of the 17th century.”
The Katskari speak their own language, which, until 2011, was taught in local schools. Then, as a result of Putin’s educational reforms, those classes were ended because they were never listed in the state educational program. But when those classes were ended, “the schools began to close too.”
“Formally,” Sidorov says, “Katsky is considered a dialect of Russian,” but its pronunciation is different and it includes “more than 2,000 original worlds which are not to be found in literary Russian.” As a result, he says, a Russian speaker will not be able to understand or function among the Katskari without special help.
In order to earn money, the Katskari may be hastening their own demise. They have organized a museum about their culture and encouraged tourists to come to the village of Martynovo which is not far from the Golden Ring. At present, some 20,000 tourists come there each year.
Nonetheless, the Katskari continue to view Russians as “outsiders” even if Russians view them as a subgroup of themselves (otvet.mail.ru/question/37853003). And like many other small groups, they have even created a website to promote their identity and knowledge about it in the broader world (katskari.com/).