Sunday, July 10, 2016

Tuva Slipping Away but Moscow Doesn’t Appear to Notice, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 10 – Tuva, by many measures the poorest region in the Russian Federation, is rapidly slipping away from Russia, the result of inaction by republic and Moscow officials and reflected in growing anti-Russian attitudes among the population and continuing Russian flight from that republic, according to Viktor Petrov.

            The Russian commentator who grew up in Tuva and has returned there to visit family and friends many times since then says that with each visit, he becomes more alarmed by what he sees and more fearful because Russians don’t share his concerns and Russian officials aren’t doing anything to change the situation (

                Most Russians know little or nothing about Tuva except that their defense minister is half-Tuvan. Most are like the St. Petersburg judge who last year observed that no such nationality as Tuvan exists. And such attitudes reflect the fact that Moscow hasn’t worked to “integrate Tuva into a single social and cultural space.”

            As a result, Petrov says, “the republic itself in response is distancing itself from Russia and considers itself as something separate and apart,” even though Tuva became a Russia protectorate in 1914 and a republic within the USSR in 1944 and even though Moscow worked to develop it in Soviet times, prompting many ethnic Russians to move there.

            But in 1990, that “flood” was reversed. Russians in Tuva were attacked by Tuvins in what can only be described as pogroms after “with the help of Baltic ‘friends,’ a national front was organized in Tuva.”  Thousands of Russians fled for their lives. Today, there are only five percent as many as there were in Tuva’s cities; and almost none at all outside them.

            Many of the ethnic Russians who remain, he continues, “would be glad to leave but they can’t because they lack the money and have nowhere to go.” But their fears of remaining are being stoked by increasingly aggressive anti-Russian Tuvan young people who tell them they had best leave before they are killed.

            The situation in the republic capital has become so dangerous that Russians and indeed Tuvins can’t go out on the streets at night. They go everywhere in taxis because to walk is to put oneself at risk of being knifed. But there are few places to go in any case, and so many again both Russians and Tuvins turn to drink.

            Tuvins like to talk about themselves as “a pearl in the center of Asia,” with “shamans and Buddhism and throat singing and traditional handicrafts. But what kind of culture can one speak of when Tuva “leads [the Russian Federation] in such serious crimes as murder, robberty, and rape in per capita terms?”

            Not only is Tuva Russia’s poorest region, but it is one of the most corrupt. And corruption has played a key role in keeping the republic from developing. In 2007, Vladimir Putin drove a silver spike in what was to be a new 400 kilometer rail link between Kyzyl and Kuragino. But as of today, only seven kilometers have been built.

            Building high rise apartment buildings can take as long as 25 years in Tuva, Petrov says, noting that the major reason is the all the money allocated for such projects is given away in bribes to officials.  There is a critical shortage of housing in Kyzyl and many have had to flee to rural areas.

            The dacha settlements around the republic capital, he continues, have been “transformed into one enormous Shanghai.” The original dacha owners are gone.  There is no work, but there is plenty of crime and social decay. Factories are being closed not opened, and all forms of infrastructure – heating, electricity, and transportation – are decaying.

            “It is bitter to look at what remains from a one-time flourishing republic,” Petrov says. “Over the last four years, the picture has become still more joyless. Construction has stopped. And those Russians who remain are forced to live in a state of constant pressure and fear. Problems are building up, and not one of the problems is being addressed.”

            Of course, the republic and local authorities are to blame for much of this, he says. But Moscow must share responsibility because the central authorities “do not see or do not want to see what is happening in one of the most dysfunctional of its regions.” If that continues, Tuva may not remain a Russian region for much longer.

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