Monday, December 24, 2018

Kalmyks Mark Anniversary of Their 1943 Deportation with Songs Denouncing Stalin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 23 – At the end of December 1943, Stalin deported 95,000 Buddhist Kalmyks from their homeland in the North Caucasus to Siberia, a destructive event that their descendants have marked this year with a song festival in Elista in which Kalmyks today recall this crime with songs denouncing Stalin and all his works.

            Some of the songs they offered were written only in the 1990s, but most were written by the deportees during their time in Siberia. But all were marked by a fundamental change in content: in the 1920s and 1930s, Kalmyks were encouraged to praise Stalin; the deportation changed that. Kalmyk songs afterward denounced him (

            Arslang Sandzhiyev of the Center for the Development of the Kalmyk Language says that “in these songs, the deported Kalmyks condemned Soviet power and Stalin personally. Some of those who wrote or sang them received additional prison sentences. But they did not give up, maintained their spirits and showed how to stand up for the truth and honor of their people.”

            According to the scholar, the Kalmyks expressed their protest only through songs. There were no poems or stories written in Siberia. That would have been impossible. But people could sing and they did. The Soviet authorities rounded up those that they could, but the songs spread through the Kalmyk deportees and survived.

            Unfortunately, Sadzhiyev says, they have not received the scholarly attention they deserve; and consequently, because oral traditions are harder to study than written ones, the Kalmyk deportation and its consequences to this day have attracted less attention than they should have.

            Boskha Borlykova, the author of Kalmyk Songs and Melodies of the 19th Century, disagrees. There haven’t been any monographs on the subject, she acknowledges; but there have been articles which show how important the songs were to the survival of the Kalmyks and how the deportation changed their attitudes toward Stalin and the Soviet system as a whole.

            “In the 1930s,” she recalls, “expeditions from Leningrad came to Kalmykia and wrote down songs. There were many which praised Soviet power and Stalin. But after the deportation, the picture changed radically: the Siberian cycle was a curse directed at Stalin.” In one song, Kalmyks sang that Stalin who deported them should be left to be eaten by dogs.

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