Article, Mongol anthropological

Irina Regbievna Garri: Who are we Buryats? Mongols or "Dear Russians"?

Garry Irina Regbievna (Doctor of History, Senior Researcher of the Institute of Mongolian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

I was very interested in the question of why the Buryats adapt faster than other Russian peoples, for example, the Yakutsk and Tuvas. I think that one of the reasons for this is that the people of Mongol origin differ in their cultural openness and the way they like to interact with the outside world. The desire to learn about the world and develop makes Mongols accept new things that may have a negative effect on their own culture. Therefore, Mongols are distinguished by their high education both in China and in Russia.

It is also related to the fact that the country of Buryats is located in the far reaches of Russia, far from the Mongol world and Buddhist civilization, which has influenced the thinking of the Buryats. Buryats, like any other nation, has had and still has its own elite. At the turn of the 20th century, national democrats were becoming the elite in Buryatia. They were educated in the best Russian universities and became the first intellectuals and scientists of Buryatia. However, because of  the citizen of Tsarist Russian, they became, whether they wanted it or not, a political agent of the Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia in Asia.

In the consciousness and political practice of the Buryat elites, it can be said that the worldview of the West and the East began to mix from this time. From a certain point, they began to see themselves as leaders in the spread of European culture in their native Asia, and mediators of the ideological policies of the USSR and Tsarist Russia. Because of this, I believe that a multi-ethnic identity, which is contrary to national characteristics, has begun to be established among the Buryats. It cannot be called a historical or cultural norm. In Tibet, Chechnya and other closed countries, people who value only their own culture are not interested in the outside world. They are satisfied with their worldview and lifestyle, so they are not threatened by assimilation.

Pan Mongol identity

The process of establishing the national identity of any people is difficult. In the national identity of the Buryats, several aspects can be highlighted: Pan-Mongol, Russian, Buddhist, Buryat identity. By nature, the Buryats are a part of the whole World Mongols. For the Buryats, Mongol is associated with purity, homeland, great history, and great ancestors. Almost all scientific and cultural figures of the Buryats in the post-reform period were in favor of the restoration of the United Mongolia. They understood that only by feeling that they are a part of the Mongols, the Buryats as an ethnic group can remain intact.

However, the history of the disintegration of the Mongol people and the painful fact of how it was disintegrated left a deep imprint. In Mongolia, there is sometimes discrimination and rejection of foreign Mongols, and the words "Russian Mongol" and "Chinese Mongol" are often more important than what they are highlighting. Many people in Buryat do not consider themselves a Mongol. But don't think too much that this is different from Mongolia. Buryats themselves, when they meet, the first thing they ask is "Where are you from?", and no one can avoid this question. Of course, the idea of ​​uniting all Mongols still appeals to Mongol bloodhounds in Mongolia, China, and Russia. Because the belief in the same origin and the same culture has been and continues to be the main pillar of the existence of the ethnic group.

Russian identity 

It should be said that the idea of Pan Mongol or Great Mongol is an "abstract concept". An example of the opposite reality is the fact that the Buryat ethnic group is part of the Russian Federation. People do not like the discussion of Buryat national issues, such as Russia-Soviet political oppression, changing the name of the country (Buryat-Mongolia), dividing the land, assimilation by language and culture, etc., and so on.

But in reality, Russia has become deeply dependent on the Buryats' collective history, the political fact that they are part of the Russian Federation, and the Russian language and culture, which can be felt in the daily life of the Buryats. Realistically thinking Buryats understand that the "Pan-Mongol" view has little chance. Therefore, they believe that it is necessary to participate in the process of modern development and progress of Russia, so that their Russian identity surpasses the identity of United Mongol, and in their consciousness reality exceeds their dreams.

My mother and father firmly believed that the Buryat world is not based only on our customs and traditions. It was no less important for them to unite with the Russian world, to find a modern education, and to unite with the views of the Great Power. But we all know the Russian language as well as the Russians, but the native language of our forefathers is still being forgotten. Like all Buryats in the city, I never learned the Buryat language at school. Our fellow foreign scientists are very surprised by this. Is this the fault of the Buryat people themselves, or is it the result of a purposeful political policy? The movement to revive the Buryat language, which has been active recently, should have started earlier. Now we can only hope that the Buryat language has not yet reached the level of extinction.

Buryat ethnic identity

I consider the Buryat identity to be the Buryat traditional culture based on tribal social principles. We all know that remnants of tribal society are still strong in Buryat society. Even now, in Buryatia, it is believed that the conditions for a happy life and mental well-being are closely related to the place of birth. The topic of the authentic Buryat land and its historical, cultural and religious significance has always been very important in the Buryat national discourse, as evidenced by the revival of shamanism that we are witnessing today.

Strange as it may seem, the resurgence of clan and local traditions has a negative effect on the density and unity of the Buryat people. The biggest problem that prevents the Buryats from uniting is that they continue to discriminate between the East and West Buryats, Shamanistic Buryats, and Russian-speaking Buryats. Modern shamans tried to unify the Buryat people by worshiping the 13 Lords of All Buryat Gods, Oikhoni Babai and Barkhan-Uul in Ulaan-Ude, and trying to unify the Buryat people was an interesting way to be out of this situation.

Buddhism identity

Buddhism has a greater role in integration than shamanism. According to a public survey, 70 percent of Buryats say they practice Buddhism, and 18 percent say they practice shamanism. However, it is difficult to say exactly which religion's faith plays a role here. Buryat religion includes rituals and ceremonies of the Buddhist-shamanistic sect. This ritual takes the form of worshiping Buddhist and local deities and spirits. In the Buryats, rituals such as serjim, worshiping one's birthplace, worshiping mounds, rock sacrifices, and worshiping local deities are mixed with shamanism and Buddhism. Because the meaning is the same, the difference is that it is performed differently in Buddhist and shamanic traditions.

Religious identity plays an important role in the problem of Buryat national identity. Now, only in the context of Buddhism and traditional Buryats, there is a discussion about the Buryat nation, using the Buryat language, and actually supporting Buryat culture and sports. Buryat Buddhists have begun to openly declare their goal to develop and preserve Buryat national culture.

A discourse on nationalism

It is good to express my opinion in the context of the dialogue about the Buryat language and culture. In Lazar Bartunaev's opinion, this discussion is somewhat empty and has the potential to spread nationalism among the Buryats. But I think his caution is more. To make the position clear, let's take a few examples from the article "Two Imperialisms in Tibet" by Wang Lixiong, a famous Chinese scholar, writer and human rights defender. Together with his wife, the Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser, Wang Lixiong dedicated his whole life to the interests of the Tibetan people and the interests of the Chinese minorities. The most important point of his article is that cultural imperialism exists not only in oppressive societies but also in democracies. In particular, there are many in democratic societies where the dominant people are clearly superior in number to the minority people.

Wang Lixiong said, "There is no need to use political pressure and force, but instead, we can use democratic methods to establish the 'mainstream'." Thus, this "mainstream" itself can suppress the minorities and their culture. As a result, smaller nations in remote areas may gradually weaken or even disappear altogether. That is why nationalism is an integral part of the movement to preserve the culture and traditions of small nations. In fact, there is a movement against globalization and the mainstream, so nationalism can be effective as long as it does not become political and start using force. "The nationalism of protecting our culture should exist in any open and fair society."

Wang Lixiong emphasized that ethnic minorities need to "learn to express themselves" in order to make their voice heard by the national majority. For me, it is that Ivan Khan to the director Yakin who is saying "paki, paki... ije heruvimy..." in L. Gaidai's comedy "Ivan Vasilyevich Changed His Profession", saying "How can I understand you, sir, when you don't say anything?" Reminds me of a wise saying. In his article, Wang Lixiong shows the difference between Uighurs and Tibetans. Uyghurs fight harder than Tibetans to protect their rights.

But they are not comfortable expressing their thoughts to the Hans, who are the majority of the nation. Uyghur intellectuals refuse to use Chinese in the Chinese media and in public. As a result, the Chinese society did not understand the Uyghur problem at all, and the interest in the Uyghur culture disappeared. What the government is saying about the Uyghur problem, only the Han people say. It is difficult to say that the fact that the Chinese feel only fear and hostility towards the Uyghurs will be beneficial to the solution of the Uyghur problem. But Tibet is a different matter.

"Due to the similarities between the Tibetan and Chinese religions and the active activities of the Dalai Lama, there are many Tibetan experts who explain the Tibetan culture in Chinese and make connections between the two cultures. Recently, a small cultural trend following Tibetan culture has emerged in China. As a result, the Chinese are beginning to understand and support Tibet's problems.

The strength of the Tibetan rights movement lies in its peaceful and gentle approach, which should serve as an example for other ethnic minorities. I think of Chinggis Khaan and his great military power, which no nation in the world could resist. Despite his strength, he could not defeat the Tibetans. On the other hand, Mongols adopted the Tibetan religion. This shows the power of culture," Wang Lixiong said.

Can't help but agree with him. Wang Lixiong's strong stance on the Tibetan issue and the large-scale protest movement in Tibet before the Beijing Olympics have attracted the attention of many people in China, and there have been many discussions on the Tibetan issue. In March 2008, he made an open appeal to the government to reconsider its policy on Tibet. This appeal was signed by 300 of the most famous Chinese scientists and intellectuals.

So, how to effectively "express" itself in order to solve the Buryat national problem like this? To be honest, both the expression and the result are very bad. During the Soviet era, speaking Buryat was almost a sign of backwardness. In the late 1970s, when a decision was made to limit the teaching of the Buryat language in secondary schools, the community did not care and hardly protested. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Buryat was unable to regain its original name, and lost Buryat autonomous districts in Chita and Irkutsk regions without being able to protect them. It is written in the media that they do not even understand that our parliament, when passing the Law on Language, removed the provision that Buryat must be studied in secondary schools.

It seems to me that the Buryats do not need to be afraid of nationalism. Because this concept has a completely different meaning than it is understood in Russia by the rest of the world. Nationalism has nothing to do with chauvinism, separatism, or violating the rights of other peoples, but it refers to the right to protect one's own culture, language, and ethnic identity. In this sense, the Buryats should use their cultural openness and their ability to communicate with other nations to their advantage.

No matter how dubious the declaration "Ethics of the reputation of a true Buryat" may be, no matter how heated and controversial the discussion about the issues such as who is a Buryat and how a Buryat should be in the modern world, the issue itself is "The Buryats have their own unique identity. "But can we live with the awareness and feeling of being a people with modern traditions and culture?" If the answer to this question is yes, then no one can call the Buryats cosmopolitan or people of the world.

Photo © Dmitry Galsan (INSTAGRAM: @galsan)

07, Dec, 2022