Saturday, February 10, 2018

Russians Came to Far East Not as Colonizers or Conquerors But as Peacekeepers, Moscow Ethnographers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 10 – “The rooting of Russia in the cultural space of the Far East” in the 17th through the 19th centuries “was neither colonization nor conquest,” Moscow ethnographer Vadim Turayev says. Instead, the Russians brought European culture and ended violent conflicts among the aboriginal populations there.

            “This doesn’t mean,” he continues, “that there weren’t any military actions … There was both force and expansion … But the essence was not in that. Rather Russia quietly entered into the local aboriginal life” and over time exerted a powerful influence on the indigenous population (

            Turayev is describing the conclusions of a new book prepared by him and his colleagues at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology which clearly is seeking a middle way between the two paradigms that have defined how both Russians and Westerners have viewed Russian expansion to the Pacific.

            On the one hand, in the eyes of many in the West and for brief periods in the Russian capital and longer in many regions, this expansion has been viewed as a simple form of imperial expansion. But on the other, for many Russians official and otherwise, the stress has been laid on what they see as the “voluntary” joining of these peoples to the Russian state.

            If one speaks about the results of this process, Turyaev says, “we characterize them as cultural colonization,” which involved among other things “the inclusion of an enormous hitherto practically unknow historical and cultural cooperation” and “the beginning of the territorial rapprochement of Europe and East Asia.”

            And that rapprochement, he continues, involved not just the indigenous peoples of the Far East but also the Chinese and Koreans as well.

            Importantly, “with the arrival of the ethnic Russians in the Far East, inter-clan and inter-ethnic conflicts say between the Chukchi and the Koryaks, between the Evenks of various groups and so on ceased. The Russians didn’t allow these conflicts to grow, used force and suppressed them at the very start.”

            “Of course,” Turayev says, the Russians acted differently in different situations, using both sticks – military force – and carrots – assistance of various kinds – to end what had in many cases been long-standing conflicts. They thus introduced European values such as agriculture and a settled way of life, helped cities appear for the first time, and introduced Christianity.

            As far as methods are concerned, the Moscow ethnographer concludes, the Russian state behaved very much better with regard to its indigenous population than did the American one with the Indians in North America. 

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