Siberians (Image: сибиряки.онлайн)

Image: сибиряки.онлайн 

Opinion, Russia

Edited by: A. N.

At a time when most Russian sites are devoted to promoting an entirely positive image of the Russian past, a new one in Tomsk, “Siberians on Line – Free and Unfree,” is going against the flow and providing important new data on the Russification of non-Russians and repression of Russians there, Yaroslav Zolotaryev says.

In a survey of its holdings for the Region.Expert portal, Siberian Yaroslav Zolotaryev points out that this site was set up by the Tomsk Regional Studies Museum but promotes far different values than the museum itself proclaims, democracy rather than dictatorship and regionalism rather than imperialism.

The site consists of two parts, both of which are searchable by names and locations, a library consisting primarily of archival documents and the memoirs of people about their ancestors. And it focuses on two issues that seldom get much attention in the official media at present.

On the one hand, the site focuses on “the destruction and Russification of indigenous peoples of the oblast;” and on the other, it features materials on “repressions and destruction of the peasantry as such regardless of the ethnicity of its members.” In both, it includes materials on the resistance of Siberians to Soviet power, up to and including armed risings.

Among the ethnic groups whose destruction the portal contains information about are Turkic ones like the Chulyms and the Eushtins, Finno-Ugric ones like the Selkups, and Slavic ones like those Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and others who settled in the region long enough ago that they had forgotten where their ancestors were from and had elaborated their own language and culture.

With regard to the Turkic minorities, the site provides documentation that the Soviet authorities proceeded in two ways:

  • They sought to include all of them under the rubric of Tatar and to force them to learn and speak Kazan Tatar rather than their own languages,
  • And they simply destroyed their villages, dispersing the population and condemning it to assimilation.

As far as the descendants of early Slavic settlers in the region are concerned, Zolotayev says, the authorities simply refused to recognize them as a distinct or indigenous people speaking their own language and having their own culture. Instead, they were classed as Russians but subjected to their very own form of Russification in an effort to make that so.

Especially interesting are the files online about popular resistance to Soviet rule, not only in the great uprising of 1921 but also in smaller risings into the 1930s. One of the most interesting, Zolotaryev says, are the documents about the Chainsk uprising of 1931 when deported “kulaks” rose for two days against their inhuman treatment.

Those with memories of that event say that the peasants marched against the guns of the Soviet guards with slogans like “Down with Communism,” “Long Live free Trade, Free Labor and the Right to Own Land,” and “Soviet Power Must Not Be: Instead, a constituent assembly and an elected president.”

What is striking about this, Zolotaryev says, is that “even semi-literate peasants were in a position to give their rising a political character and to demand minimal economic and political freedoms and even the convention of a Constituent Assembly.” One can only hope, he says, that their descendants will ultimately do the same.

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Edited by: A. N.
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