Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tuvins Don’t Want Russians to Form More than Five Percent of People of Their State, New Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 11 – On September 7, 40 Tuvin horsemen attacked a bus carrying Russian election observers. No one was killed, but what happened next is what matters: the Tuvin government insisted that the Russians as interlopers were to blame and had offended Tuvins who were simply going about their business gathering mushrooms.

            Tuva, rarely discussed except by philatelists for its remarkable triangle-shaped stamps in the 1920s and 1930s or by admirers of the late US physicist Richard Feynman who hoped to go there, has been developing in its own way too what ethnographer Boris Myshlyaytsev says is something like “apartheid” was in South Africa (

            On the basis of his study of this federal subject on the border with Mongolia which includes the poll result cited above, the ethnographer says that to understand what the situation in Tuva is like now, it is important to recognize that for the Tuvans, the Russians are conquerors whose imperial center collapsed.

As a result, those Russians who remain in Tuva are thus viewed in much the same way Russians would have viewed any Germans who might have stayed in Kaluga after Hitler’s forces were driven from the USSR. No one in Tuva wants to drive the Russians out – they’re leaving on their own – but “the current government has at its goal total de-russification.”

“Without this,” Myshlyaytsev says, “you won’t built North Korea.”  What the Tuvin regime has done up to now is create an apartheid state, one in which the Tuvins and Russians each understand that there are some places the members of the one nation go and others that only members of the other do.

Tuvins are an ancient people, but in 1921, the ethnographer recounts, they “created their own state. “Russians [there] were citizens of the USSR; Tuvin, were citizens of Tuva (without Soviet social guarantees. (A situation very similar to a Bantustan legally but its meaning was somewhat different.)”

“But in general,” although political correctness kept anyone from saying this, at that time was “set up apartheid of the Soviet type: ‘soviet people and Tuvins.’” The Russians wiped out most but not all of the Tuvin aristocracy – one of the descendants of which is the current Russian defense minister – and in 1944 annexed Tuva.

After that happened, the ethnographer says, “the Russians and Tuvins became equal, but apartheid was preserved for a long time” – indeed right up to the present.  “Everyone knows this café is for Russians, this one is mixed, and this is for Tuvins … But no one mentions it because that isn’t politically correct.”

For much of the time, this separateness worked, but when either group began to feel it wasn’t being adequately respected, it attacked the other.  For many, the choice was to leave; for others, it was to try to force the others to decide to leave on their own volition.  But as a result, each group formed an image of the other that was profoundly negative.

For details on the depth of this divide, see “Russians and Tuvins: The Image of the Other” at; and for discussions of how some on each side of the line adapted to the other and even became something different than they had been, see

Tuva was the site of the first large race riots at the end of Soviet times, and many ethnic Russians fled. Now, the pressure is less direct, although the actions of the horseman raise the possibility that things could turn violent again. Instead, the hostility each feels toward the other and the regime’s support for one is creating the conditions for a Tuvin future -- without Russians

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