Wednesday, October 23, 2019

‘Chuvash are Not Russians’ – Problem for Kremlin But Not for Russian People, Savelyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – The Chuvash have resisted the Russian imperial state which continues t this day rather than Russian culture as such, Aleksandr Savelyev says. Indeed, they have had good relations with Russians except when these are representatives of the state and seeking to impose its control and deny the Chuvash their national distinctiveness.  

            The Chuvash Turkologist who has been actively involved in promoting the development of the Chuvash language and culture argues that it is more appropriate to speak about Chuvash resistance to the state than Chuvash opposition to Russian culture with which it has long interacted (

            Indeed, in tsarist times, Savelyev continues, “Chuvash and Russian peasants often jointly took part in uprisings against administrative arbitrariness” even while they cooperated with and were informed by Russian culture.  (At the same time, ethnic Russians in the area were influenced by Chuvash culture.)

            In recent decades, however, the problem has become more severe. Chuvash culture has been preserved almost exclusively in the villages which are passing away as a result of modernization. And Chuvash who move into cities often are troubled by their own identity, or more precisely by the difficulties which attend identifying as Chuvash. 

            “In many situations,” Savelyev says, “the display of any identity except Russian ethnic or non-ethnic is considered inappropriate.” The problem here lies not with the Chuvash but with the fact that “colonial practices did not end with the disappearance of the Russian Empire: they exist even nw.”

            “When economic resources are pulled out of a region and insignificant ‘subsidies’ are given in return and when all key political decisions about the life of a region are made in Moscow and not locally, it would be surprising if the people found in themselves the resources to create masterpieces of world culture.”

            That leads some Russians and even some Chuvash to conclude that the Chuvash nation itself is not sustainable.  But it also leads other Chuvash to focus on the defense of their culture alone rather than participating in the sharing of cultural values others have that they had taken accepted earlier. And that can lead to a conflict cultural and linguistic.

            But this conflict “has been provoked by the state: people have no reason to hate another culture if it isn’t being forced on them,” Savelyev says.  That must end, and the Chuvash must “struggle for the replacement of discriminatory laws which are destroying out identity,” the scholar-activist says.

            Among the laws which must be changed, he argues, are those which limit the study of non-Russian languages, which ban reginal parties, which block any discussion of national rights because of the risk of being charged with extremism, and which undercut the economic federalism mandated in the constitution.

            The prospects for positive changes now are poor, and that means the Chuvash and other non-Russians must defend what they have until conditions change and they can make progress. Meanwhile, Savelyev concludes, they must promote the growth of national self-consciousness, something that isn’t a problem for Russians but only for the Russian state.

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