Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Sibiryak Movement to Push for Civil Society across Russian Federation

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 26 – The ‘Sibiryak’ movement is seeking to unite all the peoples of the region independent of their origin or national self-definition to promote the social, economic and political interests of the region on the basis of what its organizers call a distinctive “Siberian self-consciousness and Siberian character.”
At the invitation of a group of Tomsk bloggers, more than two dozen Sibiryaks, including the head of the independent entrepreneurs’ union, a deputy of the Tomsk Public Chamber, and an organizer of increasingly popular “extreme tourism” in the region assembled in that Siberian city this week to define their next steps and broader goals (
The participants expressed their respect for representatives of all nationalities, “be they Russians, Tatars, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Selkups or any other,” and said that the name of their movement, “Sibiryaks,” “makes it possible to unite all of them for the solution of common tasks” and the pursuit of future goals.
An overarching immediate goal, the Tomsk meeting said, is “the development of civil society in order to secure a worthy life and the harmonious development of each individual,” not only in the area around Tomsk which is a center of Sibiryak consciousness but for the entire region east of the Urals.
Some speakers, such as Konstantin Mukhametkaliyev, argued that “one should not develop civil society exclusively in Tomsk or even in Siberia alone.” And he suggested that “the ‘Sibiryaki’ eventually intends to work” throughout the Russian Federation. But despite that, the meeting underscored the tensions between “Sibiryaki” and Muscovites.
Practically all those taking part in the Tomsk sessions drew a sharp line between these two categories. Aleksandr Ostroushko argued that “the difference is one of mentality. Of course, even in Moscow there live many good people, and in Siberia, bad people are encountered.” But there is an underlying division.
Muscovites, he argued, divide “the country into the metropolitan center and the colonies. That is, they consider it a completely normal thing when the colonies work for the capital.” But Siberians have a very different view. While they consider “the entire country as their native territory,” they believe that everyone there must work to develop and not simply exploit its parts.
That difference, he said, explains why Muscovites so often “produce a negative reaction with Siberians.” And another difference is that Siberians assume that “the development of the country must not begin with Moscow” but rather with Siberia and other regions that “are really concerned not only about their own oblast, republic or kray but about others as well.”
The founders of the movement stressed that they are “against separatism despite the fact that the name ‘Sibiryaki’ often raises the question as to whether the participants [in the movement] are for the separation of Siberia from Russia or not.” They said “no revolution is planned,” but if one occurs, “the territory of Siberia will be divided between China and the US.”
But the movement is based on the proposition that the resources of Siberia should be used in the first instance for Siberians rather than as now serving as a source of new wealth for Moscow and leaving the region from which the raw materials are mined impoverished and looking for help.
Ludmila Strokova outlined five specific activities that the movement intends to pursue immediately in support of its broader goals: monitoring of the activities of government bodies and agencies, organization of local holidays, promotion of the study of local languages, volunteer work in orphanages, and free legal assistance to those who need it.
The various activities of the Sibiryaki are tracked on the website, and the leaders of the movement have published their email addresses in order to promote contacts. Among them are Lyudmila Strokova whose email is and Konstantin Mukhametkalilyev whose online address is
Up to now, Siberian regionalism has not attracted as much attention as ethnic nationalism, both because it lacks the structural features of the latter and because many assume that the Russian nation is a more integral entity than is in fact the case. And that makes the emergence of the Sibiryaki worth watching.
In comments to “NG-Regiony” this week, Aleksey Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center, underscores that point with his argument that “inter-ethnic problems are not the main cause for the appearance of new border points” across Eurasia (
The collapse of the Russian state, the longtime specialist on ethnicity and religion says, “unfortunately is possible, although in interesting and unexpected forms, but it is certainly not a fact that its main cause will be inter-ethnic relations.” Rather, this disintegration may follow regional rather than ethnic lines.
Malashenko argues that the Kazan Tatars “do not intend to separate themselves” from Russia, and the Caucasus, “despite the existing problems also does not want to acquire more serious difficulties.” Indeed, he said, he believes that if the collapse began “hypothetically with the Far East or with Kaliningrad, the North Caucasus would be held to the last.”

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