Staunton, February 9 – Hundreds of Buryats who assembled to protest the appointment of a new rector at Buryat State University who does not speak Buryat criticized ethnic policies in the republic and called for the ouster of the republic head, an example of the way in which protests over narrow issues can rapidly grow into broader political ones.
The weekend protest called “in defense of ‘the academic freedoms of Buryat State University’ and ‘for the holding of honest elections of a rector’” took place in Ulan-Ude’s Revolution Square quickly became political with criticism of nationality policy there more generally (nazaccent.ru/content/14752-iz-za-nacionalnoj-politiki-na-mitinge-potrebovali.html).
Vyacheslav Markhayev, who represents Buryatia in the Russian State Duma, told the crowd that officials in Ulan-Ude were failing in their jobs to maintain ethnic peace and simply shifting the same people around to different positions in order that nothing would shake their hold on power.
He said that the newly appointed rector not only “does not know the language or mentality” of the Buryat people but that it was absolutely necessary that the rector “must be “a representative of the titular nationality’” rather than an outsider like so many of the republic officials now are.
One local news outlet suggested that the meeting was animated by what its participants see as an attack on their national dignity (baikal-daily.ru/news/16/116328/). A second argued that the current republic head, Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, had made inter-ethnic relations worse than they had ever been before (newsbabr.com/?IDE=132837).
And a third quoted a Buryat poet who told the crowd “The Buryat people has been patient for a very long time, while its Russian brother has ‘yoked it for a long time.’” He warned that this situation won’t last and that “if we rise up,” Nagovitsyn and his crew will regret they ever came to Buryatia (ulanmedia.ru/news/society/08.02.2015/419778/ot-konflikta-v-bgu-do-nedoveriya-k-vlastyam-buryatii-ozhidaemo-povernul-quot.html).
At the end of the protest, 350 people signed a resolution whose first point was not about the need for a different rector but rather about the need for the replacement of the republic head who has held that position since 2007 and recently said that his nationality policy has successfully “preserved a balance of ethnic Russians and Buryats” in government posts.