Saturday, September 11, 2021

Zyuzdintsy of Kirov Oblast Speak a Finno-Ugric Language, Still Feel Pull of Pagan Faith, But Call Themselves Muscovites

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 11 – The ethnic mosaic of the Russian Federation is far more complicated than the Russian authorities want to acknowledge, the result of movements forced and otherwise and policies popular and not carried out by a succession of governments over the last several hundred years.

            One example of this complexity is the remnant nationality, the Zyudintsy in the northern part of Kirov Oblast, who speak a Finno-Ugric language, still feel the pull of the pagan faith their ancestors followed but today call themselves “Muscovites” because Moscow is the name that their village was given in the 1930s during collectivization.

            Such groups rarely get much attention, but Yekaterina Dushnikova of the IdelReal portal provides a glimpse into the lives of a people who have declined in number from 7300 in 1926 to approximately 250 today but who still take pride in their distinctiveness as descendants of a pagan divinity (

            Zyuzdya is a Permyak hero among the gods, and the Permyaks consider her the forerunner of their nation. Those who live in Moskva call themselves now Muscovites, they are listed as ethnic Russians in their passports, but retain their identification as a subgroup of the forest-dwelling Komi-Permyaks as Zyuzdintsy.

            Members of this nationality believe that they came to where they now live at some point in the past from the Far East, replacing the Chud, who fled in the face of the Russian colonial advance. Most speak Russian as a result of Soviet policy which refused to support schools in their distinctive language.

            But two years ago, the Muscovites “unexpectedly acquired a writing system,” Dushnikova says. Three scholars came up with an alphabet based on Cyrillic and compiled a grammar. The book is prominently displayed in the local library, but it hasn’t been put to use in any of the schools there. The languages used there are exclusively Russian and English.

            People in this other Moscow keep up with events because there is an Internet hotspot in the local cultural center. Their favorite novel is Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleyka Opens Her Eyes, and they have strong political views. Pensioners vote for the KPRF, younger people back the LDPR, but now, the IdelReal journalist reports, “many are for Navalny.”


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