Thursday, July 21, 2016

Agin Buryats Say They Were Lied to about Regional Amalgamation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – Seven residents of the former Agin Buryat District say that they and other residents of that former federal subject were lied to in the 2007 campaign to get them to agree to be amalgamated into a common Transbaikal kray, that they want those behind these lies to apologize, and that they want changes to protect their nation and its culture.

            In an open letter to the acting governor of the kray, to the leadership of the ruling United Russia Party there, and to all residents of the Agin Buryat District, the seven civic leaders say that nothing has worked out as the backers of amalgamation said it would and that their people are being destroyed (

                Consequently, they say, they want and expect apologies from all concerned and changes, including perhaps the reversal of the 2007 vote, lest their nation suffer any more.  Their appeal has attracted widespread attention in the Russian Far East. (See, and

            Three aspects of this appeal make it of even broader importance: First, it is a rare collective denunciation of one of the policies Vladimir Putin has made central to his rule and that has clearly run into obstacles in recent years.  This letter will only encourage others to resist and make it more difficult for the Kremlin to combine additional federal districts.

            Second, it calls attention to the growth of Buryat nationalism more generally, an ideological trend that among other things seeks to unite all Buryat lands inside the borders of the Russian Federation – including in the first instance the two that were amalgamated earlier -- as well as expand ties with the Republic of Mongolia.

            And third, this open letter given its addressees seeks to put pressure directly on the United Russia party at a time when the votes of the Agin Buryat District may again prove decisive as they did in earlier gubernatorial elections, possibly forcing United Russia to make some concession in order to win votes and thus again serving as a model for other regions.

            Many residents of the Agin Buryat District were skeptical about amalgamation, but they were won over by a propaganda campaign that suggested they would be better off and that they would always enjoy special status within the new larger kray. Things haven’t worked out that way, the letter says.

            On the one hand, the situation in the district has deteriorated with each passing year, forcing many of the Agin Buryats to leave for work elsewhere in the Far East, including in Korea and China, and transforming a third of the region’s population centers into ghost towns with little or no hope of recovery.

            And on the other, neither the kray government nor Moscow has provided the assistance either promised; and the kray has not kept its promises to treat the district as a truly special entity. Instead, the letter specifies, it has suffered along with the kray population as a whole, not the way things were supposed to work.

            This letter did not come out of nowhere – for background on the Agin Buryat case, see,, and – but it is the most prominent and politically sophisticated move so far and highlights the rise in tensions in the Transbaikal.



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