Friday, December 15, 2017

Suggestion Buryats Should Identify as ‘a Society’ Rather than ‘a Nation’ Sharply Criticized

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Yevgeniya Baltatarova, a Buryat journalist, says Buryats should stop calling themselves a people or a nation and instead identify as a society because that will “solve many problems” since it does not have any “nationalistic” coloration and can embrace everyone in the republic (

            Because the enormous implications of such a change – it would at least implicitly suggest that Buryats or any other group making this change could not make claims to the right of national self-determination – it has drawn a sharp rejoinder from Lari Ilishkin, a Kalmyk journalist (

            Such an idea is “not new,” he says. First, the Soviets tried to replace “ethnic identity with the ephemeral ‘Soviet community of people’” because they “sincerely supposed that rejecting ‘national’ terms would automatically close off discussion of many issues, including a priori and to the end unresolved inter-ethnic ones.”

            That effort at the all-union level was echoed in the 1970s by calls to identify the peoples in the union republics not by the nationality of the titular nation but rather by a new, non- or super-ethnic identification, replacing for explain Kazakhs with Kazakhstantsy.  But the effort at both levels collapsed as the Soviet government weakened and ultimately collapsed.

            Now, at the all-Russian level, Vladimir Putin supported by Academician Valery Tishov wants to have all the residents of the Russian Federation identify not as ethnic Russians or ethnic Tatars but rather by the non-ethnic term, Rossiyane, one devoid of ethnic content and dubbed a civic nation.

            Baltatarov’s proposal represents a reprise of what happened in the USSR almost 50 years ago when calls for a non-ethnic Soviet identity began to spread downward to the union republics where some also wanted a non-ethnic civic identity to be predominant. But as Ilishkin points out, the consequences of accepting such a shift now are if anything even worse.

            He cites the argument of Moscow political analyst Maksim Shevchenko who has written that “Russia today stands before a choice of the path of its further development” and who insists that there are “only two such paths.”

            The first, Shevchenko argues, is to follow the Western model with the state being replaced by “a corporation” and “’the people’ and ‘the nation simply being an extra headache for those who are making money” because they represent a challenge to the conformism and uniformity of consumer societies.

            The other, he continues, traces its origins to “the heritage of Chingiz Khan,” for whom “religion, people and state all have a place” and who with the strengthening of each and the cooperation of all lead to mutual enrichment and the flourishing of the population.

            “In order to make Buryatia a strong and attractive place,” Ilishkin says, “one need not be ashamed of one’s national identity and be concerned about offending someone or being offended.” Instead by celebrating one’s own people and recognizing the right of others to celebrate theirs, integration into something bigger becomes possible.

            Efforts like those proposed by Baltatarova prevent that, and they have another negative consequence as well, he continues. They can promote the rise of nationalism among part of the people as a response to the denigration and even dismissal of their identities and traditions by others.

            “A strong state and an improved standard of living are the guarantors of the preservation of the interethnic accord that has been achieved,” Ilishkin concludes. “Not some change of terms. The sad experience of the world in this regard stands before our eyes. Why should we repeat the mistakes of others?

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