Sunday, July 15, 2018

Kalmyk Activists Denounce Moscow’s Nationality Policy Tout Court

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 15 – Something happened in the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia yesterday that hasn’t happened in one of the non-Russian republics within the current borders of the Russian Federation since the early 1990s: protesters denounced not just a specific policy, in this case, the language law, but the entire nationality policy of the Russian government.

            At a demonstration that as usual in Kalmykia was dominated by older age groups but that in this case attracted numerous young people as well, speakers sharply criticized Moscow’s language policy plans but did not limit themselves to that. Instead, they condemned Moscow’s approach to the non-Russian nations (

                Erenien Dolyaev, a longtime Kalmyk activist, said that the language measure was introduced into the Duma “for exactly the same reason that the pension age, VAT, and communal services have become higher.  By adopting this law, the state frees itself from the obligation to finance the native languages of the indigenous peoples.”

            “That means,” he says, “that Moscow will not finance the publication of textbooks and other books in non-Russian languages and that there will not be lessons and teachers for native languages in the schools.” University training in non-Russian languages will end. And the last teachers of these languages will disappear upon retirement.   

            Okna Tsagan, famed for his reading of the Kalmyk epic Dzhangar, began his remarks by citing the Daghestani poet Rasul Gamzatov who said that “if tomorrow my language is going to disappear, then I am prepared to die today.” He called on all Kalmyks to study their language “whether the Duma wants this or not.”

            In 1963, he recalled, the CPSU closed down Kalmyk language schools because the party “decided;” now, Moscow is doing the same thing. Kalmyks and other non-Russians must resist by studying the language anyway to keep it alive.

            Composer Boris Udzhayev said unfortunately the draft law will be passed because “United Russia today is capable for pushing through any initiative. This party is introducing measures which threaten the integrity of Russia.”

            Valery Badmayev, the editor of Sovremennaya Kalmykia, noted that many Kalmyk intellectuals had already protested but that more needed to be done.

            Pavel Matsakov, a Kalmyk from Belgium, called on Kalmyks to form “a national organization which will promote the interests of the Kalmyk people,” pointing out that two months ago a congress of Oirat Kalmyks had called for exactly that step. He further argued that “the problem of language is only the result of the political situation in the country.”

            In reality, he said, “we do not have a republic and that is what we must talk about in the first instance. If we had a federation like in Belgium, many issues would begin to be resolved. We must take power into our own hands and secure a division of powers between Moscow and the subjects of the federation.”

            Batyr Boromangnayev, the head of the Kalmyk branch of Yabloko Party, said that tragically “Kalmyks are not today the masters of their own land.” Those who make decisions about the Kalmyks and the Kalmyks themselves are not one and the same. The former act in their interests not those of the Kalmyks.

            Aducha Erdneyev, head of the Kalmyk committee of the Communists of Russia Party, called on those in attendance to “vote for real patriots of Kalmykia” at the upcoming elections in September. 

                And finally Buddhist monk Ananda Kalmykiave called on the Kalmyks to preserve their language and their alphabet and to remember that their ancestors were capable of doing just that.  When Stalin deported them, he said, “many Kalmyks [nonetheless] returned from Siberia without knowing Russian.”  They preserved their language and Kalmyks now can do the same.

            Moscow can issue prohibitions, the monk concluded, “but we will do things in our own way.”

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