Staunton, November 17 – Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic of some 300,000 on the edge of the North Caucasus, seldom gets much attention except for its religion – it is the only political unit in Europe with a Buddhist plurality -- and the fact that its earlier leader was an international chess champion. Moreover, for the last 15 years, it has been relatively quiet politically.
But Moscow’s decision to impose a former head of the DNR as mayor of Elista, the republic capital, has changed that, sparking large and sustained protests over the last two months, yet another way that Russian aggression in Ukraine is spilling back into the Russian Federation and in which Moscow’s appointment of outsiders to positions of power is backfiring.
And what is happening in Kalmykia follows the pattern in Ingushetia and some other republics: Activists who began their protests with a focus on a single narrow issue have broadened their agenda and are now challenging not just one decision but the foundations of the Putin system as a whole.
(For background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/kalmyks-resist-moscows-dumping-its.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/those-criticizing-moscow-in-non-russian.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/protests-in-three-non-russian-republics.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/kremlins-new-old-policy-of-assigning.html.)
Vladimir Dovdanov, an activist from Kalmykia who participated in the Free Russia Forum in Vilnius, told Idel Real’s Artur Asafyev that the current wave of protests in his republic which shows no sign of ending is the largest since 2004 when an earlier one was harshly suppressed (idelreal.org/a/30275295.html).
This wave began as a spontaneous response to the decision of the Elista city council to confirm as mayor a former DNR official who has no ties to the republic as mayor. Moreover, the man is someone “with an extremely questionable reputation, being from an unrecognized republic under sanctions.”
“Is our republic to become a place where such people will be laundered and assimilated?” This couldn’t be happening, Dovdanov said, without the approval of republic head Batu Khasikov and so the protesters soon began to demand that he be removed and replaced, although not every taking part in the demonstrations has gone that far yet.
And now, he continued, some of the demonstrators are talking about demanding the ouster of other republics, including Kalmykia’s representative to the Russian Federation Council, because “we all understand perfectly that if they break us, if they leave things as they are, they will crush the spirit of our people – and not only ours but of all protesters in Russia.”
Dovdanov also spoke about an even bigger issue: He insisted that there is no such thing as a Kalmyk nation. We are Oyrats, he said, and we speak the Oyrat language, one now “under threat of being pushed out by Russian. On this issue, our authorities are puppets. Perhaps in their souls, they are patriots and even know the language,” but they aren’t defending it.
“I in fact am an internationalist and state-thinking person, but above all I am an Oyrat and must first of all think about my people. And the situation of my people concerns me. We have done much for Russia as a people, and nonetheless, beginning with Catherine II and up to now have been treated as second-class people.”
He said he was pleased that the Free Russia Forum had begun to talk about “a new federation,” drawing on the ideas of Bashkir politician Ayrat Dilmukhametov, ideas, Dovdanov said which he considers to be correct. (On Dilmukhametov’s ideas, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/effective-russian-federalism-and-strong.html.)
“When equal subjects create a state and when they are vitally interested in its preservation, it will be very strong and not be like the USSR,” the Oyrat activist says. In contrast, “empires based on unequal relations are always doomed.”