Staunton, January 17 – Among the most interesting responses to the Manezh Square violence last month has been the formation of a new social movement of Siberians (“Sibiryaki”), a group committed to overcoming divisions within the ethnic Russian community there and across the country as well as splits between ethnic Russians and other peoples in that region.
After the Manezh clashes on December 11, a meeting of diasporas in Moscow called for the creation of strong new intermediary organizations between individuals and the state in order to ensure that the rights of all groups, including ethnic Russians, are protected (www.peoples-rights.info/2011/01/v-tomske-sozdaetsya-obshhestvennoe-dvizhenie-sibiryaki/).
Not surprisingly, however, Russian nationalist movements with often openly xenophobic goals and non-Russian groups which sought to defend themselves against the increasingly assertive Russian nationalists, but such “bridging” groups have emerged as well, examples of the growth of civil society in Russia beyond the usual frameworks.
One, the Sibiryak Movement, was created on December 24th and will hold a constituent session on January 24th in Tomsk. It consists of those who identify as “descendents of those exiled to Siberia, including for political reasons, of those who fled from serfdom and simply wanted to be free, and of indigenous peoples who want to see the flowering of their own lands.”
And on the basis of this composition, the new group is committed to the idea that “Siberia now must become the cradle of freedom and the expression of the will of the people,” not as formed in political parties or the state but as a social movement, the Sibiryaki are appealing to their fellow Siberians and fellow believers across Russia.
Collective decision making of the kind exemplified by the Cossack “krug” is “in the traditions of Russian society,” organizers say, “and our Social Movement is called upon to defend the interests of members of the group (medical and legal assistance),” to organize volunteers, to ensure that laws on housing are observed and that federalism grows.
The meeting on the 24th is to discuss the goals and tasks of the movement. Among the goals the organizers suggest should be at the center of attention are “the restoration of historical memory and of the traditional cultural and linguistic milieu of peoples living on the territory of Siberia.”
Moreover, they say, the group should provide “support for socially defenseless strata of the population, defense of the rights and legal interests of participants of the Movement, and the development of civil society for guaranteeing a worthy life and the harmonious development of each individual.”
To that end, the Sibiryaki Movement organizers say, they want to initiate dialogue “among representatives of various nations, nationalities and peoples and among representatives of various religious confessions,” to promote Siberian traditions economic and linguistic, and to contribute to “the rebirth of traditional values, including moral and family ones.”
Although it is far from clear that this group will become a major force, its appearance now is nonetheless important for three reasons. First, it is a unusual example in Russia of an effort to combine social and political goals across ethnic and even regional lines, a combination that could make it an important model for others.
Second, it reflects the aspirations of at least some in Russia to promote at the same time traditional social values and a modernized state sector providing support for those who need it, a combination rarely found in the Russian Federation or, it should be said, in many other countries at the present time.
And third, the new group with its focus on Siberian identity is yet another indication that places in that country far from the capital can be, as the group itself puts it, “a cradle” for the rise of new social and political ideas that are not necessarily directed at the dismantling of the Russian state.
Some Siberians, of course, do favor independence for their land, but most support the idea of genuine federalism and democracy within Russia. This new group appears to reflect the views of that regional majority, something the rest of Russia should now attend to lest continuing neglect of their ideas lead these Siberians to change their views.