Saturday, September 21, 2019

Russia’s Minority Nations Won’t Tolerate Being Reduced to Folkloric Groups, ‘NG-Religii’ Editor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – Putin regime officials, encouraged by the arguments of academic specialists like Valery Tishkov, want to reduce non-Russian national minorities to Russian-speaking folkloric groups on the model of ethnic minorities in other countries such as the United States.

            But the suicide of Udmurt scholar Albert Razin is the latest indication that members of these nations are not going to quietly accept this recipe and that they are drawing on their history of resistance to Russian oppression to energize themselves to resist, according to Andrey Melnikov, editor of NG-Religii (

            And this resistance draws on the increasing influence of pagan religions, especially those found among Finno-Ugric nations. Indeed, he says, although few noticed, after his suicide, Razin was buried in his native village in a ceremony overseen by the chief priest of the Udmurt traditional faith, Nikolay Mikhaylov.

            Indeed, the Moscow specialist on religion says that Razin viewed himself as “a chief shaman of the ancient Tuno tradition” of the Udmurt people and not just as a scholar or ethnic activist. (On this tradition, see Vladimir Petrukhin’s study on “Myths of the Finno Ugrics” at

            But this renewed focus on the old faiths, Melnikov continues, not only means that the Russian authorities won’t be able to sweep away these nations as easily as it has swept away the flowers put at the site of Razin’s self-immolation but also that Moscow will have to deal with the recovery of other historical memories that put the non-Russians and Russians at odds.

            In the Udmurt case, those memories include the Multan Case in the 1890s when a group of Udmurts was accused of the ritual murder of Russians, a case used to justify the oppression of that nation. (See Robert Geraci, “Ethnic Minorities, Anthropology and Russian National Identity on Trial: The Multan Case, 1892-96,” Russian Review 59 (2000): 530-554;  in Russian atЭтнические_меньшинства_этнография_и_русская_идентичность_перед_лицом_суда_Мултанское_дело_1892-1896_гг.)

            The Multan events, which in many ways were analogous to the notorious Beilis case and its charges of supposed Jewish “ritual murder” of Russians, were the subject of Soviet-era novels like Mikhail Petrov’s Old Multan (Moscow, 1973); and according too Melnikov, they remain very much part of the historical memory of Udmurts to this day.

            The NG-Religii is critical of many of the ideas circulating among followers of the Udmurt traditional faith, but he suggests that actions like Razin’s mean that Russian officials are going too have to pay more attention “to the desire of indigenous peoples to revive their languages and customs.” Otherwise, there will be problems.

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