Monday, June 11, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Putin Restores Yet Another Unfortunate Soviet Tradition

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 11 – Russian President Vladimir Putin is restoring the discredited Soviet practice of celebrating the round anniversaries of the “voluntary” incorporation of various non-Russian peoples into the Russian Empire even when their absorption was anything but voluntary and peaceful.
Moscow has declared this year to be the 450th anniversary of these events in Bashkortostan, Mari El, Udmurtia and the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus, even though historians and the peoples of these regions are less certain about the date than Russian officials seem to be.
Earlier this month, for example, an exhibition opened in Moscow devoted to “the 450th anniversary of the voluntary uniting of Bashkortostan with Russia, even though one ethnologist pointed out that in this case “voluntary” was defined as “having no other way out” (
More such commemorations are planned for the coming months, officials say. But a commentary on the Caucasus Times website last week suggests that one of the most outrageous rewriting of the historical record is likely to involve Russia’s absorption of the Circassians (
This anniversary will be celebrated according to a model worked out by the Soviets in 1957, Sofia Kodzova, a historian and editor at the OLMA Media Group, told the site. The orders will come from Moscow, but local people will announce that it is all their idea. And enough money will be handed out to keep most people quiet if not happy.
This year, there will be celebrations in Moscow and in the capitals of Kabardinia-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, and the Adygei Republic, the Caucasus Times reports. And the federal government has already allocated four billion rubles (150 million U.S. dollars) for these events.
Some of this money will be spent on the celebrations themselves, but most of it will be devoted to the construction of 23 new facilities including theaters, concert halls, and cultural centers. “The North Caucasus has not seen anything so extensive and pompous since Soviet times,” the website suggests.
On each and every occasion this year as in Soviet times, the site continues, officials plan to stress how “voluntary” the absorption of the Circassians into the Russian Empire was, a claim that ignores nearly three hundred years of resistance, genocide, and the expulsion from Russia of more than a million Circassians in the 19th century.
The Circassians in both the Russian Federation and across the Middle East where many of them now live remain proud of the fact that their ancestors continued to fight against Russian expansion in the Caucasus five years after Shamil laid down his weapons and surrendered to the Russian government.
Moreover, they well remember that their ancestors also resisted the establishment of Soviet power after 1917, revolted at various times in the early years of the USSR, and suffered the fate of the other “punished peoples” whom Stalin expelled from their homelands at the end of World War II.
None of this rich history is going to figure in the official celebrations Putin and others in Moscow plan. But at least some actions of these same officials will have the effect of calling attention precisely to what Moscow and its supporters just as in Soviet times do not want to admit.
The Caucasus Times website describes why this is so: “Adygeis [as the Circassians call themsevles] can return to their historic motherland … [only if they can show with] “corresponding documents” their ancestors were] “subjects of the Russian state” at the moment of the forcible expulsion of the Circassians in the 19th century.
“Thus,” the website continues, “with one hand, President Putin gives out a billion rubles for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of ‘the voluntary inclusion’ of the Adgyeis into Russia, and with the other, he closes the path to the repatriation of individuals who do not have” the requisite documentation.”
That reality, the Caucasus Times suggests, will be noticed however noisy and pompous the celebrations this fall turn out to be.

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