Friday, December 1, 2017

People with Ethnically Mixed Backgrounds Celebrated in Buryatia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – In Soviet times, officials routinely pointed to the rise of ethnically mixed marriages as an indication of the rapprochement of nations and their coming together into a single Soviet people.  In the post-Soviet period, that issue has been on the back burner in most places.

            On the one hand, that shift reflects a heightened sense of nationality among many people Russian and non-Russian alike. And on the other, it also appears to reflect a decline in the number of ethnically mixed marriages and thus of ethnically mixed people in many parts of the country.

            But now in a break with the post-1991 trend, Aleksandr Makhacheyev, a Buryat journalist is celebrating such ethnically mixed people in an article entitled “The Time of the Metis in Buryat Politics” which considers their position in the past, present and future (

            Three of the 21 members of the republic government are products of ethnically mixed marriages, he notes, adding that “the issue of the national membership of the representatives of the authorities in Buryatia is one of the most important” not only in that republic but in most places in the world.

            The newly appointed head of Buryatia, Aleksey Tsydenov, is a metis and used the occasion of his first address to point that out.  “Obviously,” Makhacheyev says, “the federal center considered this background” in appointing him to this post, quite likely intending to send a message to Buryats and others as well.

            Ethnically mixed marriages and their ethnically mixed offspring appeared in Buryatia with the arrival of the Russians. The Cossacks weren’t accompanied by women and by force they often seized Buryat women, often with tragic results. But “thus began the mutual process of the genetic penetration of ethnic Russians and Buryats.”

            The Russian Orthodox Church worked hand in glove with the state to promote such marriages. Buryats who converted were not only freed of certain taxes but gained the right to marry Russian women without paying a bride price. But some Buryats without conversion were still prepared to pay a bride price for Russian women when they appeared.

            Such intermarriages, the Buryat journalist says, contributed to the rise of “new sub-ethnoses” in which elements of the two national cultures were combined. This process was accelerated rather than slowed by Soviet policies and by the 1970s, one in every seven marriages in Buryatia’s capital were ethnically mixed. 

            Today, Makhacheyev continues, the share is approximately the same, although polls show that just under half of all Buryats say they have relatives who are members of other ethnic groups and that just over half would support the marriage of their children to members of other nationalities, with slightly more Russians than Buryats feeling that way, 57.8 percent to 53.5.

            “Under favorable socio-economic and political conditions,” the journalist concludes, such figures “will only grow.”

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