Article by: Paul Goble
Buryats in Buryatia laughed when the first reports came in that Buryats were fighting for Moscow in Ukraine. They cried when the first bodies and injured Buryats were returned to their homeland. But they have had quite enough with the Kremlin’s latest effort to exploit them as spokesman for “a Russian world from sea to sea.”
In a commentary on Ekho Moskvy, Buryat journalist Aleksandra Garmazhalova writes that Buryat casualties from the war in Ukraine had already sparked social and political tensions in her republic, even though Russian officials “insistently recommended that local media ‘not touch this theme’”.
Nonetheless, because of the interest of the Buryats in their co-nationals, some independent journals, like “Novaya Buryatia,” took it up and even tried to raise money to help the injured. Buryats also learned that those who had gone to Ukraine had done so only because they were promised enormous sums of money.
All this was “unpleasant,” Garmazhalova writes, but people were prepared to tolerate it. But their tolerance for Moscow’s exploitation of Buryats in the Ukrainian war ended when the Russian government put out its “Putin’s Militant Buryats’” video clip a week ago and when that clip went viral (translation of the video by Free Donbas).
The statements by those featured on the clip in support of “the Russian world” were too much. Buryat models Viktoria Maladayeva and Mariya Shantanova denounced them as did Buryat director Solbon Lygdenov who was upset, as many Buryats are, that any small group would presume to speak for all Buryats on such things.
It quickly became know, the Buryat journalist says, that those involved in the clip were all “activists from Irkutsk” rather than from Buryatia proper. That led many Buryats to breathe a sigh of relief: “Well, thank God, at least they aren’t ours.”
But that is not “the main thing,” Garmazhalova says. “In [her] worst nightmare,” she writes, she “could not imagine that Buryats (not as volunteers but all the same) would go to fight for ‘the Russian world’ given that they would have to know what the imposition of imperial ideology and nationalism would mean for [them].”
Buryats know from their own experiences that what the Rogozins and Zhirinovskys complain about in Ukraine really exists in Russian cities and that they are the victims of the worst kind of ethnic discrimination and mistreatment.
Buryats and members of other ethnic minorities in Russia “have become accustomed not to leave home on November 4 (the Day of National Unity) and on April 20 (Adolf Hitler’s birthday).” They also “are accustomed that the police will check our passports,” that they will find it hard to rent an apartment or even get a job.
In many Russian cities, “apartments are now rented ‘only to Russians,’” and people are hired for work in those places only if they have “’a Slavic appearance.’” And in addition, the Buryat journalist writes, “we have become accustomed to hear from acquaintances” that Russians transfer their children to other schools if there are “too many” minority pupils.
Many may remember that a Buryat was not allowed to win the Mrs. St. Petersburg contest because officials said “’the first beauty in a European city could not be a Buryat woman.” And they may also recall that Elmira Abdrazakova, who did win the Miss Russia contest in 2013 was abused as someone who should never have been named “the main Russian beauty.”
Given all that, how can anyone think that “we want ‘a Russian world’ ‘from sea to sea,’” a world in which there are the “’titular’” people and “’the outcasts?’” Garmazhalova says that she would not presume to speak for everyone but as for herself, she wants “simply a world for all” in which all are treated equally and fairly.
Not long ago, she continues, a Russian came up to her in the St. Petersburg metro and said she should give up her seat to him because she, “as a representative of ‘a lower caste,’” should defer to him as a member of “’a higher caste.’” When she responded that if he didn’t like to use public transportation, he should buy a Ferrari, the situation almost degenerated into a fight.
Such individuals “like Russia as a whole” need to “learn to respect others.” But “that perhaps is too difficult? It is much simpler to solve a problem with one’s fists and tanks.”