Saturday, July 24, 2021

Tyva Under Stalin – Where Even Horses were Repressed as Counterrevolutionaries

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – The Museum of Political Repressions in Kyzyl, the capital of Tyva, contains a remarkable painting. It shows a horse who won championships there in the late 1930s but who was charged with being a counter-revolutionary and then executed by the Soviet authorities.

            That a horse should have been subject to such a fate reflects the complicated relationship between Buddhism and Bolshevism in what was from 1921 to 1944 a Soviet satellite known as Tannu Tuva and known if at all for its remarkable triangle-shaped stamps and then was annexed by Moscow.

            These complexities are discussed by Kara-Kuske Choodu, 85, a prominent Tyvan writer, the son and grandson of lamas, a member of a family numerous of which were repressed and who himself was driven into the streets at the end of Stalin’s time because no one would risk taking him in (

            Choodu’s grandfather killed himself rather than surrender his monastery to the communists, and his father was sent to the GULAG but before the end of his life was rehabilitated as someone who had been falsely accused. But Choodu makes clear that for himself and them, the relations between communism and Buddhism in Tyva were fraught.

            He has told his family’s story in a series of essays, novels, and short stories that are required reading in the Tyvan school system to this day. Tyvan historian Ottuk Irgit puts them into a broader historical account. After the Tyvan revolution took place in 1921, he says, communists and Buddhists coexisted and cooperated for much of the 1920s.

            The situation in which the incompatible were combined ended at the end of the 1920s when Salchak Toka, a graduate of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, returned with a group of comrades, imposed collectivization and attacked Buddhism. Both things sparked revolts which he brutally put down.

            He russianized the republic and rejected a Latin script-based alphabet that had been prepared, repressing all those involved in that effort. Then, in 1944, Toka led the republic into the USSR where sovietization intensified, leading to such outrages as the execution of a horse for supposed counter-revolutionary activities.

            Buddhism revived only after the disintegration of the USSR, with lamas returning and the autonomous republic acquiring a chief lama in 1997. Now, there are a total of 16 Buddhist shrines; and their travails in Soviet times live on in the memories of aging survivors like Choodu and at the Museum of Political Repressions.

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