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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Buryat in Russia

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Russia Facts
Area:    17,075,200 sq. km.
Capital:    Moscow
Total Population:    146,881,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

Buryats show little risk for rebellion in the near future, despite territorial concentration and a strong group identity. There has been no rebellion in the post-Soviet era, and Buryat protest has generally been low, despite several incidents that could have mobilized the population. Most recently (2005-2006), Russia’s central government caused some opposition by amalgamating Buryat regions with regions containing large, non-Buryat populations. This resulted only in modest protest, perhaps because Buryat regions already contain large, non-Buryat populations.

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Analytic Summary

The Buryat are ethnically a mixture of Mongol, Turkic, Tugus, Saoyed and other peoples. They have maintained close links with other Mongol peoples throughout their history. Their traditional lands are located north of the Russian-Mongolian border near Lake Baikal. More than half of all Buryat live within the autonomous Republic of Buryatia, and over 83 percent live within the three neighboring Buryat republics: the autonomous Republic of Buryatia, the Ust-Ordyn Buryat autonomous district, and the Aginsky Buryat autonomous district (GROUPCON = 3). However, ethnic Buryats are an absolute majority in only the smallest district (Aginsky Buryat autonomous district), with ethnic Russians forming over 67 percent of the Republic of Buryatia, reducing ethnic Buryat to a small minority (28 percent). Buryats are set to become an even smaller minority as the amalgamation of districts is implemented in the 2007-2009 period. Many Buryat are Buddhist, although in recent years there has also been a resurgence of shamanism (BELIEF = 2).

Buryatia lies within a strategic zone long contested by Russia, China, Mongolia, and (before 1945) Japan. Thus, historically and today, Buryatia has precariously existed amid the competing spheres of influence of more powerful neighbors. In the post-Soviet era, Buryatia initially made some attempts to promote an independent policy from Moscow by establishing economic and tacitly political ties with Mongolia and China (through China’s "Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region"), as well as cultural links with a wider Mongolian cultural sphere. Nevertheless, Moscow’s policy of centralization during president Putin’s period in office has not overlooked Buryatia. The president of Buryatia, for example, which used to be an elected position in the 1990s, is now appointed by Moscow.

Due to Buryatia’s strategic location, Tsarist, Soviet, and now Russian Federation authorities have maintained a keen interest in its disposition. Russians have viewed Buryatia as both a danger and an opportunity. Because they are Asian and Buddhist, Russians have feared Buryats as a possibly disloyal element within their empire. For example, during the political maneuvers of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Tokyo sponsored a "pan-Mongol" movement in the hope of co-opting Buryats, a stratagem which deeply concerned the Russians. Tsarist officials must also have been impressed by the initiative, for in the years before World War I they likewise supported "pan-Mongolism" as a means of drawing all Mongols under Russian tutelage.

Buryatia, much like other areas of Siberia, has long served as a "dumping ground" for elements considered undesirable by the central government. Among the first Russian immigrants to the area were "Old Believers," who were exiled to Siberia under Peter the Great after Patriarch Nikon’s religious reforms. This group was followed by exiles and criminals (political and otherwise) up through the Soviet era. Other Russians immigrated to the area to take advantage of the fur trade or to exploit mineral and other natural resources. These influxes of Russian immigrants resulted in a fragmentation of Buryat culture and of their territorial concentration.

Like most of the peoples colonized by Russia, Buryats have protested their subject status in the past (PROT45X-PROT65X = 1, PROT90X = 2, PROT98X = 3), but Russo-Buryat conflict has lacked the protracted or vicious nature of, for example, the Russo-Chechen wars. During the Russian Civil War fought between Reds and Whites, rather than opposing one side or fighting against both, Buryats largely remained neutral. In the late 1920s, Stalin’s policy of forced agricultural collectivization met with determined Buryat resistance. The effects of the Civil War and Stalinization were long-lasting. The pre-revolutionary number of Buryats, 300,000, was again achieved only in the 1970s. Following World War II, Moscow attempted to Russify Buryat culture by banning traditional art forms and by placing Russian academics in charge of Buryat education.

The Buryat have a strong identity. The Buryat people have had several active cultural organizations since 1991. The aim of these groups has been to reclaim the Buryat language (which many Buryat speak poorly or not at all) and to revive cultural art forms. The revival of shamanism has led to the formation of an association of shamans, which promotes traditional medicine and also serves as a sort of licensing board for shamans. Although some of these culturo-political organizations remain active, such as Negedel and Buryat National Congress, political representation at the national level is primarily achieved through the major pan-Russian political partites, as elsewhere in the country. Politically, as in the Soviet period, ethnic-Buryats dominate Buryatia’s local government.

Buryatia experiences public health crises on a regular basis. The Republic has a high tuberculosis rate, trouble with HIV infection, and frequent battles with anthrax, encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis, and other deadly diseases. Furthermore the region is subject to forest fires, flooding, droughts, insect infestation and earthquakes. The region, despite its natural wealth, remains relatively poor.

Group grievances primarily concern cultural and linguistic loss (CULGR04-06 = 2), and plans to amalgamate Buryat regions with districts containing large, non-Buryat populations has provoked increased calls for a single, united Buryat region with increased autonomy from Moscow (POLGR04-06 = 3). Despite some ethnic tension in the region, Buryatia has not seen the ethnic violence present in other areas of the Russian Federation (COMCO98X = 0; INTERCON03-06 = 0). Furthermore, levels of protest, while persistent previously at low levels (PROT90X = 2, PROT98X = 3), have disappeared in recent years (PROT99-04 = 0), with only one small partition organized in 2005 protesting against proposed amalgamation (PROT05 = 1). In the post-Soviet era, no rebellion has occurred.

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References

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, numerous stories, 1990-2006.

Lexis-Nexis: All News Files 1996-2006.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "Buryat Ne Khotyat, Chtoby Ikh "Poglashchali"", 06/17/2003.

Olson, James S. An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Pravosashitny Tsentr, "Doklad o Polozhenii s Pravami Cheloveka v Respublikie Buryatia v 2003g." (http://rightcentr.narod.ru -- accessed 04/25/04).

Pravozashitny Tsentr, "Doklad o Proyavlenyakh Natsianalizma, Ksenofobia, I Neterpilivosti Na Territorii Respubliki Buryatia za 2001 god" (http://ngo.burnet.ru/hrcentr/xenofobia.html -- accessed 04/25/04).

Reuters World Service, numerous stories, 1990-2003.

TASS, numerous stories, 1990-2006.

Tishkov, Valery. The Principal Problems and Prospects of the Development of National-Territorial Entities in the Russian Federation. Cambridge: Harvard University Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project, n.d. [probably 1992].

Wixman, Ronald. The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1984.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006