Staunton, August 20 – Tuva, a republic in “the center of Asia” which once produced remarkable diamond-shaped stamps and attracted the attention of the American physicist Richard Feynman, is now attracting attention for another reason: the balance between the government and opposition is such that upcoming elections could lead to an Orange-style revolution there.
In a two-part, 5,000-word article in “Komsomolskaya Pravda” this week, Vladimir Vorsobin describes the striking complexity of Tuva, a place where the politics of Russia in the 1990s continues despite Putin’s erection of a power vertical and one where shamans have an important political role (kp.ru/daily/24541/720147/ and kp.ru/daily/24542/720698/).
Taking as his title the observation of a Tuvan opposition leader that “Soon All of Russia will Be Talking about Tuva,” Vorsobin suggests that his Russian readers should “imagine a 300,000-resident oblast isolated from the metropolis where time stopped sometime at the end of the 1990s.”
Tuva is gaining ever more attention, he continues, because of its “inexplicable anomalies” – it is “one of the poorest” of Russia’s non-Russian republics with 80 percent of its budget coming from Moscow, it is one of “the most criminal” with the highest rates of violent crimes per capita in the country, and it has “a parliament in the hands … of the opposition.”
Moreover, Vorsobin continues, the people of Kyzyl “love to say that they entered the USSR last – in 1944” when Soviet forces entered that formerly quasi-independent country and to point to a plaque on one building which says “Here was the embassy of the USSR to the People’s Republic of Tuva” and another where today is the consulate general of Mongolia.
And it is a place where shamans remain extremely influential, in politics as well as in other spheres. One of them, Kenin-Lopsan Mongushu, 85, told the visiting journalist that Yeltsin had sat where Vorsobin was sitting and asked whether Tuva would leave Russia and find itself in good shape.
Mongushu said he responded “’Don’t worry.’” And then the first Russian president “relaxed, smiled and left.” (Vorsobin for his part congratulated the late Russian leader for, “in spite of himself,” listening to and trusting Tuvan shamans.) In the event, Tuva didn’t leave, but it has followed its own path.
In May-June 1990, there were serious ethnic clashes between the Tuvins and ethnic Russians, and many of the latter departed, driving down their share of the republic’s population from 33 percent to 18 percent. Some later returned, but the republic’s leadership worked to ensure that Tuvins had the top jobs, leaving only some industries to the Russians.
“Some say,” one Russian observer there said, “that there never was any nationalism; others, that it had always existed.” The reason for that divide, she suggested, is that “Tuva always has been divided east and west. “In the east, there never was any nationalism;” but in the West, there always was.
Ethnic Russians often have shown contempt for the Tuvins, the journalist observes, and in response, some Tuvins have applied “the strange word ‘colonists’” to them, implying that Russians living in Tuva “are building a reservation for themselves like the white minority in South Africa.”
Such attitudes help to explain why the opposition won a majority of seats in the republic parliament in 2006 and even asked Moscow to remove the governor there. At first, the executive branch tried to find a common language, but then Moscow decided to impose a power vertical in Tuva as well.
By 2010, the Moscow-installed leadership had achieved great success, but in the parliamentary elections in that year, the Tuvans again voted for the opposition, leaving the parliament evenly split with 16 pro-government deputies and 16 opposition ones. (Moscow has tried to change that by pushing for a reduction in the number of deputies altogether.).
Now, as Vorsobin points out, “everyone is waiting for the October elections” there. And many in the opposition are predicting mass demonstrations of the kind that the OMON will not be willing or able to suppress. The editor of the local opposition paper said he does “not exclude” anything – including a repetition of Kyrgyzstan’s revolt or a color revolution.”
One reason is that Tuva meets two of the criteria for such an event: there is genuine competition among the parties and the possibilities for falsification are limited. Given the small size of electoral districts, “everyone knows how everyone else voted.” Consequently, the editor concluded soon, “all of Russia will be talking about Tuva.”