Saturday, July 18, 2020

Circassian Opposition to Tsarist Memorial Inspires Siberian Tatars to Do the Same

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 16 – The Internet means that when one group uses a tactic successfully in one place, other groups will try to use it elsewhere. In the wake of the Circassians’ success in getting a memorial in Sochi to tsarist forces removed, Siberian Tatars have mobilized to Tobolsk to block the erection of one to another tsarist conqueror.

            In early June, the Rebirth of Tobolsk Foundation announced that it had raised enough money to erect a statue of AtamanYermak, the Cossack leader who conquered much of Siberia and the Russian Far East for the tsars and that the monument had the support of both church and state (

            But immediately thereafter, the Siberian Tatar community there fired off a protest, arguing that such a statue would be highly offensive and exacerbate inter-ethnic feelings, even though it is the case that neither the Siberian Tatars nor the ethnic Russians in the city and region  are either all against or all for the monument. 

            Their objections have led the authorities to put the project on hold and sparked a debate in both Tobolsk and Moscow about where the opposition was coming from and what the powers that be should do when confronted with such objections by one or another ethnic or regional community (

            Many participants in the debate blamed the protests in the United States which seek the dismantling of monuments to racist figures in the past, but others were more inclined to blame the successful Circassian effort in Sochi earlier this month for the decision of the Siberian Tatars (

            While both of those likely are playing a role, other analysts, including Moscow historian Nikolay Svanidze and Moscow political scientist Mikhail Remizov, argue that resistance to the erection of a statue of the Cossack ataman conqueror has a long history in the region and should not surprise anyone.

            In 2002, they note, the local bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church called on the city to put up a monument to Yermak in the city square named for him.  But plans for that foundered when Siberian Tatars pointed out that his statue would be on top of what has been identified as a cemetery in which are interred those who resisted Yermak’s advance.

            The controversy was reignited when the Kremlin and local officials in 2017 pushed to make the Russian stand on the Ugra River a regional holiday, something that sparked a serious debate about the meaning of such a holiday and even the meaning of the event it was to commemorate (,, and

            Apparently, tensions in Tobolsk are sufficiently great that the Siberian Tatar objections may carry the day. Svanidze suggests that the city likely will “have to get along without a memorial to Yermak.” He says that it could be set up “somewhere else” and suggests  that the city of Moscow might be the most appropriate place.

            Remizov is anything but pleased about this outcome but does propose an alternative outcome, one that he says is suggested by the approach some in the US have adopted: Put up the statue of Yermak, he says; but also erect memorials to those who opposed him nearby. Both sides should have their monuments. 

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