Saturday, January 12, 2019

Russians Increasingly Stereotype Numerically Small Peoples of the North

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – In Soviet times, many Russians told jokes about the Chukchis, a northern nation so small and far away that few Russians had ever met one or were likely to suffer any sanctions for comments about them even if they presented members of that nation in the most negative way.

            In fact, Chukchi jokes in Soviet times were of two kinds. Many made fun of what Russians viewed as a backward people in ways that bordered on the racist, but many others used the Chukchis as a foil to make fun of the Soviet system itself. None of the latter should be repeated but some of the latter are classics.

            One of the best runs as follows: A young Chukchi drives across the USSR and comes into Red Square. He stops his car and starts to walk away until a Soviet militiaman challenges him, saying that he can’t park there because this is Red Square.  The Chukchi responds that he’s come so far, wants to see the Kremlin and the mausoleum, adding there aren’t any “no parking signs.”

            The militiaman gets angry and says that clearly the Chukchi doesn’t understand that Red Square is the center of the Soviet state and that important people, even members of the Politburo, go back and forth it all the time.  That gets the young Chukchi’s attention and he says to the militiaman “Thank you! I did forget to lock up.”

            Russians still tell both kinds of Chukchi jokes, but now they are even more inclined to talk about the Chukchis and other numerically small peoples of the Russian north in terms of stereotypes that in almost all cases are negative and offensive.

            Anton Stepygin, a journalist, recounts some of the view that Russians have about the Khanty, views that they may have about other larger nations but feel they can get away with in this case because the Khanty are so small in number, only 30,000 and two percent of the population of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District (

                Among the things many Russians believe about the Khanty, Stepygin says, are the following:

·         They are illiterate and “less intelligence than people of other nationalities.”

·         They are “sectarians” because while they keep icons at home, they believe in paganism.

·         The Khanty are incapable of living on their own and rely exclusively on money from Russian oil companies.

·         They are too “lazy” to keep with developments and use old products like 15-year-old Nokias rather than something newer.

·         “The Khanty do not know how to drink and quickly become alcoholics.”

·         The Khanty don’t use toilets or keep themselves clean.

·         “The Khanty castrate reindeer with their teeth.”

·         They are all well-armed and ready to fight others at the drop of a hat. (There is some truth in that.)

Vyacheslav Gavrilov, a Khanty lawyer, points out that “with each year, there are ever more rumors about the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North.” Many are not true, and their spread shows that officials and activists have to do more to inform Russians about what the Khanty and the others really are. 

            He proposes developing tourism to the region in order to acquaint ethnic Russians living in the North and “residents of the entire country with the [real] way of life of the numerically small peoples” 

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