Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin Policies Generating Backlash in Buryatia

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 3 – Vladimir Putin’s campaign to amalgamate two Buryat districts with predominantly ethnic Russian ones and his installation of a personal loyalist as head of the last surviving Buryat social-political organization are producing a backlash among intelligentsia of the Buryat Republic in Russia’s Far East.
According to a report in this week’s “NG-Regiony,” a group of them are calling for the convention of an extraordinary Congress of the Buryat People to consider what they should do, especially after Putin orchestrated the election of Vladimir Buldayev, a United Russia deputy in the republic parliament as head of the All-Buryat Association for the Development of Culture.
That Association, as “NG-Regiony” journal Sergey Berezin points out, is “the last of the major social organizations created by the [Buryat] national intelligentsia at the beginning of the 1990s” and Putin’s move appears intended to restrict its activities and deprive it of any independent political weight (
Until recently, the Association, which “unites representatives of ethnic Buryats of Russia, Mongolia and China” and is “a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO),” had generally “distanced itself from participation in political life” and focused on cultural problems.”
But Putin’s actions, coming as they did in the wake of Moscow’s decision to deny re-registration to the Congress of the Buryat People, which had pressed the central authorities to recognize the Buryats as a repressed people and demanded the reunification of the Agin and Ust-Orda Buryat districts with the Buryat Republic, the association has become politicized.
Two years ago, the Association also spoke out against the amalgamation of the two Buryat districts and its leaders sent a letter to Putin concerning the appointment of a new president of the republic, a letter that Berezin describes as “scandalous” because it spoke out against appointing anyone from outside or of a different ethno-confessional background.
Putin ignored the Association’s appeal, nominating for the formal approval of the Buryat parliament as the republic’s new head an ethnic Russian who had been vice governor of Tomsk oblast. Now with the appointment of a Putin loyalist as head of the Association, that body in the opinion of many is set to become “exclusively a decorative one.”
Upset by that prospect, a group of Buryat activists has formed an initiative group to convent a Congress of the Buryat People and create “an organization capable of raising sharp and important questions on behalf of the Buryat people and not limiting itself to representative functions” as the Association appears to be.
But the Association’s leadership council is confident that their group will not only survive but will not face any serious challenge from these activists. A major reason for their confidence is that the Putin loyalist now in charge of the Association has worked hard and successfully to block any government-backed Buryat Congress in the past.
Nonetheless, the activists, angered by Putin’s heavy-handedness, may go ahead with their plans, and if they do, especially given that the pro-Moscow authorities have announced plans for an official Congress in 2011 to mark the 350th anniversary of the inclusion of Buryatia in Russia, their efforts could trigger new problems.
On the one hand, such a meeting could highlight the difficulties the two Buryat districts that have been folded into Russian regions now face, problems that would further complicate Moscow’s plans to amalgamate other regions by highlighting just how duplicitous the center has been about the supposed advantages of combining existing federal units.
And on the other hand, precisely because the Buryats are closely related to the Mongolians, any controversy in Ulan-Ude will also complicate Moscow’s efforts to develop relations with Ulan Bator, relations that both Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have sought to promote.
Given that, it seems likely that Moscow will do what it can to prevent any unofficial congress from being convened, but the anger Russian actions have already produced among Buryats may only be intensified as a result, thus creating another potential hot spot for Moscow in a place few would have thought possible up to now.

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