Thursday, November 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Minister’s Chukchi Joke No Laughing Matter for Peoples of the Russian North, Sakha Composer Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 13 – Ethnic jokes by political figures misfire in most countries, and a Chukchi joke by Russian Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev has now sparked controversy in the Russian North, not only because it was told in the first place but because it was published in an official government paper and has not been disowned.


            On October 28, “Rossiiskaya gazeta” published an interview with Ulyukayev in which he told the following anecdote about the Chukchis: He said some Russians are now behaving like the Chukchi who buried a potato set and then dug it up the following day, long before it could become a potato, because “he very much wanted to taste it.”

            Now, Valery Shchadrin, a Sakha composer, has written a response denouncing not only the minister for telling such a joke but the Russian government and society for failing to express their outrage and forcing the minister and the paper to retract it ( and

            “As a patriot of Russia and Yakutia and a graduate of Moscow’s Chaikovsky Conservatory,” Shchadrin says he is deeply upset by the “openly nationalist expressions” of Minister Ulyukayev and wants to see a retraction.  Otherwise, the minister’s insulting of the Chukchis becomes an insult to all of Russia’s numerically small peoples of the North.

            “If such hostile expressions are openly printed in a Russian government newspaper, then all the northern peoples of Russia will be forced to think about immediately emigrating to the United States or Canada to seek immediate political asylum for all respresentatives of the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).”

            Shchadrin also expressed concern that the official organizations of the northern peoples had not spoken out either, despite the fact that Ulukayev’s interview was published two weeks ago.  They must express their opposition to such things or the situation in the north could become more serious.

            Earlier this year, Chukchi activists turned to Russian courts with a demand that articles with a negative connotation about their nationality be removed from a Russian dictionary, but their efforts were rebuffed (

            The reason in both cases is less what has been said than who has said it. Even as Ulyukayev appears likely to escape any responsibility for his highly offensive words, a court in Sakha has found a Ukrainian citizen guilty of exacerbating ethnic tensions by using offensive terms for members of the Sakha nation (

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