Staunton, January 26 – Moscow’s greatest fear as far as ethnicity is concerned is not the increasing share of non-Russians in the population of the Russian Federation but rather any indications of the fragility and fragmentation of those it categorizes as ethnic Russians whatever the people involved think.
Thus, the Russian government’s continuing refusal to recognize the Cossacks as a distinct nation and its ongoing campaigns against those who identify as Siberians or Pomors among others lest these identities cut into Russian domination of the population and raise questions about the much-ballyhooed unity of the Russian nation.
But despite official efforts, ever more groups are organizing and demanding official recognition either as a sub-ethnos within the Russian nation, a numerically small people which under Russian law would get special benefits, or even a separate and independent nation all its own.
The latest group to do so is one few in Moscow or the West had ever noticed before: the Tudovlyane of Tver Oblast who trace their ancestry back to the Belarusian nation even though they have been subject to massive Russification campaigns and who have now organized a petition campaign for recognition (nn.by/?c=ar&i=184294&lang=ru).
The petition (change.org/p/законодательное-собрание-тверской-области-признать-этнографическую-группу-тудовляне-тверской-области-белорусами-по-национальности?) which is addressed to Vladimir Putin and Tver Oblast Governor Igor Ruden has been signed by more than 200 people.
“Help us to restore historical justice and return to our people its former history and culture,” the petition reads. “In the western part of Tver Oblast, in the Olenin district, live the ethnographic group of the Tudovlyane. This group was formed as a result of the assimilation of the Belarusian population which lives in these areas.”
“In our villages,” it continues, “people speak a dialect of Belarusian – Tudaulyanskiya gavorki – which kept particular expressions and words up to the middle of the 20th century.” But as ethnographers and historians have testified, they retain “the traditions, culture and dress” of their own people which is “different than that of their neighbors.”
Unfortunately, and despite all that, the petition says, they are forced to declare Russian as their nationality in all official documents. And the ethnic Russians they live among are completely dismissive: Such people, they say, long ago became Russians and their petition now is “curious” (nn.by/?c=ar&i=184294&lang=ru).
But there is clear evidence that the Tudovlyane are in fact recovering their identity on their own whatever their neighbors or Moscow says. They have their own page on the VKontakte social network (vk.com/tydovljane), they have produced their own ethnography (Yu.M. Smirnov, “In strane Tudovlyan” (in Russian), Tver, 2004), and they have the attention of the Belarusian media (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/1/26/238893/).