Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Buryatia: Superficial Political Stability Masks Growing Threat of Social Explosions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Buryatia could prove to be a metonym for Russia as a whole. The Buddhist republic, Bato Ochirov says, is one where superficial political stability imposed from above masks growing social discontent that cannot find any outlet within the political system and therefore may take the form of anomic violence and popular risings.

            In an essay for the AsiaRussia portal, the Buryat political analyst says that upcoming elections to the republic’s parliament aren’t going to reflect what is going on in society. Moscow and its local representatives have things at that “formal” level too well organized and controlled (asiarussia.ru/articles/19599/).

But precisely because the power vertical has, Ochirov continues, its managers have left the many people in the population who are angry about conditions with no means of acting within the system and thus unwittingly and unintentionally caused the latter to think about acting in an extra-systemic manner.

That means that “the rickety balance” that exists in the republic could “at any moment” collapse in the face of popular risings. There are already signs that things are coming apart. The situation in the Tunka region two years ago showed how easy it is for the authorities to lose control if people go into the street and show they are not afraid, the commentator says.

Their actions, including blocking streets and refusing to obey the authorities, have since been copied in many other regions of Buryatia, including most recently in the Yeravna region, the homeland of many influential people in the regime but also in the religious leadership and business community.

Few of these actions have attracted much attention beyond this republic on the Mongolian border, but “today Buryatia on the socio-political level is like a pot beginning to boil with the appearance of a few bubbles.” Each week brings fresh evidence that the number of these bubbles starting in Tunka and in Yeravna are increasing in number and scope.

Some of these actions are “widely known” at least within the republic and in its capital, but many are not. The big question is whether they will come together and present the powers that be will a bubbling pot that the authorities can’t ignore but also can’t prevent from boiling over.

The situation in Yeravna suggests that the situation there may already be close to that point. “The central factor of the destruction of political processes in the region is the lack of any strategy and philosophy of change. Up to now, ‘the era of change’ [that the Moscow-install republic head talks about] remains only a declaration” to be put on banners and then forgotten.

“Today,”  Ochirov continues, Buryatia is made up of a complex mix of inter-ethnic, domestic political, inter-clan, inter-family and other relationships. Any mistake in one of these elements can quickly jump to another. At some point, it is even possible that they will all come together.

According to Ochirov, the existing system needs to be totally reformed. “The former model” of power in which everything looks calm but in which real problems are ignored “has exhausted itself.”  That is something the Buryat people see – and it makes them even more angry.

What matters, of course, is that the Buryats may be far from the only people in Russia who feel that way.

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