Staunton, Sept. 4 – Yevgeniya Baltatarova, a Buryat journalist and blogger who has gotten in trouble with the authorities because of a video clip on Russian racism and colonialism says she was inspired to do so in part by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
She told Ilya Azar of Novaya gazeta that she mentioned the worldwide effect of BLM and pointed out that it is influencing non-Russians in Russia. “People are beginning to think about colonial history and about how the conquest of Siberia and the Far East occurred” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/09/03/o-rasizme-russkikh-i-snose-pamiatnikov-zavoevateliam).
BLM has encouraged the indigenous population of Siberia and the Russian Far East to think about the possibility of removing the statues of the Cossacks who conquered their lands and are still celebrated as heroes by the Russian authorities, Baltatarova continues. BLM has shown what is possible if not now then in the future.
And just like BLM activists in the US, she says, non-Russians want the statues down not because they believe that Russians and Cossacks in Siberia now are bad people but rather because it is important to learn from and overcome historical tragedies rather than continue to celebrate them.
Russians often insist that they brought culture to the Buryats and others in Siberia and the Russian Far East, she says; but Buryats now say that “when it is said that Russians brought the economy and industrialization here, they also brought syphilis and gonorrhea.” Both realities are true, and both must be recognized.
But the Russian authorities and those Buryat ones who work with them don’t want any discussion of the negative impact of Russian colonialism and they are totally opposed to any discussion of the genocide they inflicted. Those who raise such topics are either silenced or forced to emigrate.
Baltatarova says she uses her telegram channel -- t.me/baltatarova – to raise these issues and she used her video clip to race the issue of Russian racism. For Buryats, what they face is really racism and cannot be reduced to nationalism alone. Buryats, she says, have been under assimilatory pressures for so long that “all of them have a Russian mentality.”
“We have already achieved a homogeneous society,” she continues. “My clip is called ‘Russian Asia,’ and on the lead page is a Buryat woman in a in a kokoshnik, because we are, in principle, the same Russians, but only of a different race, a different color and with a different eye shape.”
So the question for Buryats and Russians is racism, the different treatment of people not because of their culture but because of their physiognomies. Buryats “suffer because our people cannot feel themselves full-fledged Russians because of the color of their skin and the shape of their eyes.”
The situation Buryats find themselves in in Russia is thus not that different from the one Blacks find themselves in in the US. Thus, Baltatarova says, it should surprise no one that the Buryats are taking a page from the BLM playbook.