Staunton, March 24 – Sixty years ago this month, on orders from Moscow, the Buryat-Mongol republic and its titular nation were renamed, with the word “Mongol” dropped from both, changes that continue to rankle many of the members of that nationality which historically has been close to the Khalka Mongols of Mongolia.
The Buryat news agency InfoPol notes that “now, only the older generation remembers that earlier our republic had a different name,” the Buryat-Mongol ASSR. But then in March 1958 the CPSU obkom dropped the reference to Mongol both for the territory and the nation (infpol.ru/news/asia/142307-pochemu-60-let-nazad-iz-nazvaniya-buryat-mongolskaya-assr-ischezlo-odno-slovo/).
Because the party committee simply ordered the change rather than explained it, Buryats on their own have come up with four different “versions” to explain why this happened.
The first version is known as “Rumyantsev was ‘For’ It.” Georgy Rumyantsev was a Russian linguist who had been working in Buryatia since 1939. He repeatedly insisted that “there are no Mongols on Buryat territory” and won the support of scholars and politicians for his position.
The second version is known as “Tsybikov was ‘Against’ It.” Bimba Tsybikov, a Buryat colleague of Rumanyantsev, argued that the Buryats and Mongols were one people with common roots extending into the past and that if the Buryats denied this past, they would not be able to develop. Some apparently saw this as nationalist and thus supported Rumyantsev’s position.
The third version is called “Khrushchev was ‘For’ It.” According to this version, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had two reasons for eliminating the name Mongol. On the one hand, his de-Stalinization campaign had led many Buryats convicted of promoting “pan-Mongolism” to be posthumously rehabilitated. Eliminating Mongol made this easier.
And on the other, Khrushchev pushed this idea because of the Soviet Union’s deteriorating relations with China. He and those who agreed with him felt that if the name “Buryat-Mongol” were retained, China might use this to make claims on the ethnic territories of the Mongols everywhere in Eurasia, including inside the USSR.
And the fourth version is sometimes labelled “Because of the United Nations.” Mongolia had been trying to join the UN since 1945 with Soviet support, but the US vetoed its application noting that Mongols live not only in the Mongolian Peoples Republic but in China and in the USSR, as officials in these countries acknowledged by their nomenklatura.
Eliminating Mongol from the Buryat ASSR and from the Agin and Ust-Orda Buryat National Districts thus was judged a useful step toward helping Moscow gain another ally in the United Nations. And that is the real reason, many Buryats believe, that they aren’t called Mongols anymore.