Monday, September 23, 2019

Another Case of What Looks like Russian Solicitude toward an Ethnic Group Being in Fact an Attack on It

Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 19 – As Buryatia continues to be roiled by protests, the authorities have taken an action which many will see as supportive of the republic’s titular nationality but in fact is intended to weaken nation by seeking to reinforce and promote divisions within it at a time of increasing national unity.

            Damba Ayushev, the spiritual leader of the traditional Buddhist community in Buryatia, has announced that the newspaper Buryaad Unen will now be issued in four dialects of Buryat – Khayta, Selenga, Jidin and Barguz – rather than in standard Buryat alone (

            This decision, he said, was taken jointly by Ayushev and Bair Tsyrenov, the head of the administration of the head of the republic given that the newspaper is the joint project of the head of Buryatia, the Popular Assembly (Khural), and the government of the Buryat Republc which has its representatives on the paper’s editorial board.

            On the one hand, this recognition of the dialects is something many Buryats have long wanted but not been permitted to do because Russian policy has sought to overcome such internal divisions within that national linguistic community and routinely insisted that all publications must use the standard form of the language.

            But on the other, the fact that it is being permitted now raises the question as to why given that in the past, whenever a nation was taking shape in opposition to Moscow, the Russian authorities often have suddenly decided to allow and even promote dialectal differences as a way of limiting that process.

            When the USSR was coming apart, for example, Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly called for the establishment of four literary journals in Belarus to reflect the dialectal differences in the language used there in various parts of that republic. And more recently, Academician Valery Tishkov has pushed for the use of Kryashen to undermine Tatar unity.

            What makes such moves so clever is that many in these nations have long sought recognition of often important dialectal differences and thus welcome such an opportunity even though the consequences of this are not the promotion of the interests of the nation involved but rather the undermining of those interests by Moscow and its local representatives.

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