Friday, June 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Re-Imposing Soviet Myth about Voluntary 'Joining' of Non-Russians to Russia, Buryat Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Moscow is forcibly re-imposing the Soviet-era mythology that the Buryats and other non-Russians joined Russia voluntarily and now live happily as part of the multi-national society of that country, according to a Buryat scholar who was fired and then forced to seek asylum in the US because his research challenges that view.

            In reality, Vladimir Khamutayev told Marina Saidukova of Cambridge University, the historical record shows that Russia occupied Buryatia and many others by force, that his republic at least is now “a mute colony” of Russia, and that relations between Buryats and Russians are anything but cloudless (

            A widely-published scholar at the Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the Buryat Academic Center of the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences before being forced out, Khamutayev also served as vice president of the All-Buryat Association for the Development of Culture and president of the Congress of the Buryat People.

                A year ago, he was dismissed ostensibly for shortcomings in his work but in fact because of his activism -- and because his latest book, “The Unification of Buryatia to Russia: History, Law and Politics” (in Russian; text available at, challenges the newly-restored orthodoxy.

            Khamutayev emigrated with his family, but his son, who remained in Buryatia, has already lost his position, a signal to others of what can happen if they do not toe the line even if they in fact know that it is nonsense, especially in places like Buryatia where few outsiders are paying much attention. He said he had asked his colleagues not to put themselves at risk by speaking out on his behalf.

            One Russian journalist has called Khamutayev a “Buryat Nazi” for his views, a sobriquet that the Buryat scholar says reflects “the traditional Russian nationalism of the authorities,” a nationalism based on attacking other nations “in order to reform the [ethnic]Russian population into Rus-Nazis and thereby unite Russians against the ‘enemies of Great Russia.’”

            Khamutayev who is preparing English translations of his work says he does not expect to to return to his homeland anytime soon.  And when asked what he feels to be most, “a scholar, a politician, or a public activist,” the political émigré said with clear pride that he identifies as “a Buryat Mongol,” an identity that Moscow has tried to suppress clearly without success.

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