The Russian Federation is not a federation but a prison of more than 100 non-Russian nations oppressed for centuries by the Russians. That prison is a time bomb ready to go off at any moment. Russia's brutal yet losing war in Ukraine has certainly been motivation as a combination of conscriptions, repressions and economic sanctions is proving to be too much for the non-Russians and serving as motivation and opportunity for revolt and self-determination.
The Buryats are one of many nations oppressed within the federation who have not only voiced their condemnation of Russia's war, but manifested support for Ukraine and reawakened their own national aspirations.
The Buryats are a Mongolian-speaking people living on both sides of Lake Baikal, as well as in Mongolia and China. The total population is estimated from 550 thousand to 690 thousand. The traditional religions of the Buryats are Buddhism and Shamanism.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Muscovite state began the conquest of the Buryat land. The conquest of ethnic Buryatia lasted for about a hundred years and finally ended sometime after the signing of the Burin Treaty between Russia and China in 1727.
The Buryat national movement originated at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries as a response to the tightening of Russia's repressive policy towards the Buryats.
The emergence of a stratum of bourgeois nationalists in the Buryat milieu was a unique phenomenon in the history of national movements in Central Asia. Due to an imperialistic, allegedly administrative land reform undertaken by the tsarist government at the beginning of the 20th century, the Buryat population rose in active opposition to protect its land.
After the February Revolution in the Russian empire, by a decision of the National Congress of Buryats of the Trans-Baikal region and the Irkutsk province in April 1917, a national state of the Buryats was formed - Buryat-Mongol Ulas.
In 1923, the Buryat-Mongolian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed as part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
During the Stalinist repressions in 1937, the Buryat leadership was arrested, either shot or sent to concentration camps. A wave of arrests hit thousands of citizens of the Republic. On Sept. 26, 1937, almost a third of the territory was torn off from the Republic.
Demands for the reunification of the Buryat people within the boundaries of a single republic sounded with renewed vigor at the end of 1980s and the early 1990s. Regional political associations were created. The core of the platform of these organizations was the revival of the Buryat-Mongolian people through territorial reunification and the re-establishment of a single Buryat-Mongolian Republic.
In 2020, the Buryat Democratic Movement (in exile) officially appealed to the president of the Russian Federation (RF) with a demand to restore the Republic of Buryatia within its 1937 borders and to carry out the necessary actions for the rehabilitation of the Buryat nation and the Republic of Buryatia. The demand was based on the existing law of the federation and the obligations assumed by the RF to comply with international legal norms, as well as archival historical documents. This appeal was ignored.
In 2014, in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, activists and supporters of the Buryat national movement repeatedly condemned the illegality of Russia's actions. They strenuously objected to sending soldiers from the territory of Buryatia and Siberia to participate in illegal action. Many Buryats had been conscripted.
By 2016, many Buryat activists had emigrated and formed the Buryat Democratic Movement outside the RF. With the start of Russia's full scale war against Ukraine in 2022, the Buryat Democratic Movement (in exile) was one of the first (among the peoples held captive by Moscow) to issue an official statement in support of Ukraine and condemn the illegality of Russian military aggression.
The Buryat emigration formed a consolidated movement, Buryats Against the War, from which the Free Buryatia Foundation emerged, which includes activists in EU countries, the U.S., and Mongolia, as well as groups that remain in Buryatia in the underground.
Together with other national minorities oppressed within the RF, the Buryats have joined the League of Free Nations based in Europe.
The lessons of history regarding empires are that an empire almost always takes on more than it can manage which decays with time. Repression serves the empire well, but oftentimes the patience of the repressed can break, which results in more courage and risk taking, especially when the weaknesses of the oppressor are exposed. The result may be revolt. This is what should happen in the Russian Federation. The first signs are apparent.
The democratic world has not only a moral obligation, but also a political opportunity to support legitimate aspirations, in particular when they serve the interest of world stability and peace in the long term. The antidote to empire is democracy.
Even people who do not have a tradition of democratic rule and respect for human rights under the influence of an open global society where everything is transparent, begin to value the rights and opportunities of a free society. However it is necessary not only to talk about supporting the good to overcome evil and taking advantage of new opportunities, but also to act accordingly and decisively.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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