Sunday, February 21, 2021

Latest Chukchi Joke: Five Percent of Chukchis Support Russian President, Ten Percent Don’t, and 85 Percent ask ‘Who is He?”

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Most Russians know little about the Chukchis, a nationality located as far from Moscow as you can go without leaving the Russian Federation, except for anecdotes which either allow the Russians to make fun of this numerically small people – numbering about 16,000 or about the system under which both live.

            But as instructive as these jokes can be (, the Chukchis deserve to be known for more than those; and Andrey Filimonov of the SibReal portal provides a useful introduction to a nation that fought off the Russian empire, maintained contact with Alaska up to the Cold War, and in many cases spoke English and had relatives in California until recently (

            The Chukchis refer to themselves as “the real people;” and although they are a small nation, they are divided into two parts, those who live on the shoreline and make their living by fishing and trading and those who live in the interior of their distant from Moscow land by reindeer herding.

            They resisted the expansion of Russian power for so long and wish such success that after a century of trying, the imperial authorities simply gave up, shut down Russian bases, and allowed the Chukchis by Article 1256 of the Russian legal code to pay what tribute to St. Petersburg they themselves decided upon.

            After the Russian civil war, Bolshevik agitators appeared in Chukotka and told the Chukchi that Lenin had liberated them from oppression; but that was not an effective message as far as the Chukchis were concerned because they didn’t feel they had been under the thumb of the empire anyway.

            They had maintained contacts with Alaska, and many of them spoke English, and the imperial authorities were wise enough to realize that if they tried to do more with the Chukchis than declare their land part of the Empire, the Chukchis would rise in resistance and make their absorption prohibitive.

            As a result, long after 1917, the Chukchis continued to use American measures of distance rather than the European metric system, and until the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Chukchis continued with their traditional shaman-dominated culture rather than being integrated into Soviet life.

            To end this, the Soviets used “not only repression and propaganda” but residential schools in which the children of Chukchis were confined and both Russianized and Sovietized. Many Chukchis tried to keep their children away from such institutions but that became largely impossible by the late 1930s when not attending school became a state crime.

            But despite that, even now, the Chukchis remain less well-integrated into Russian life than almost any other non-Russian nationality, the result of their willingness to resist any challenge to how they have always lived and the distance from Moscow which keeps the center from taking harsher measures.



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