Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Moscow’s Moves Against Buryat Autonomy ‘Pilot Project’ for All Non-Russian Areas, Exiled Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – Buryatia, a Buddhist republic of nearly one million people on the border of Mongolia, seldom attracts much attention, although this past week, protests against Moscow’s decision to sell off the forests there to Chinese businesses have gained it some media time at the center (

            That is unfortunate not only because the republic is important in its own right but also because, precisely as a result of its relative obscurity, Moscow often has used Buryatia as a testing ground for policies it then extends to other non-Russian republics and even to predominantly ethnic Russian regions. 

            The latter fact makes an interview Radzhana Dugarova, an exiled Buryat political activist, has given to Vyacheslav Puzeyev of the After Empire portal especially important (

            She says she was extremely distressed by Moscow’s having forced Buryatia to disband its own republic Constitutional Court several weeks ago. But the activist adds that she is distressed not only for her homeland but also for all non-Russian republics given that this move was “the Kremlin’s pilot project” for all other republics as well.

            “When the Kremlin decided to move toward the destruction of autonomies, it began with Buryatia,” first a decade ago amalgamating the two Buryat national districts with surrounding Russian areas even though there was no threat of separatism or radicalism from either. Moscow did this to show that it was moving from federalism to a unitary state.

            But repressions have been going on in Buryatia since the 1930s, Dugarova points out; and thus Buryats “view the dismemberment of the republic and the liquidation of the Constitutional Court as a continuation of this very same process.”  Unfortunately, in Buryatia now, there are few officials ready to defend their republic against Moscow.

            At the end of Soviet times, Buryats were able to organize the own national movement, their own national political party and their own Congress of the Buryat People. But since Putin came to office, all these things have either been banned or captured by pro-Moscow people who block the Buryats from advancing their own interests.

            Dugarova notes that one of the few times many outside the republic have talked about Buryatia was when Russian propagandists played up the idea that Buryats were fighting alongside pro-Moscow forces in Ukraine.  At that time, she organized a webpage to unmask this “fake news.”

            As far as the future is concerned, Dugarova says that after the Russian empire disintegrates, Buryatia “really will be better off in some sort of free confederation” because it is small and closely intertwined with its neighbors both within and beyond the borders of the current Russian Federation.

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