By Paul Goble
Russians living east of the Urals “no longer want to be Russians,” many there say, and Moscow commentators are beginning to consider the possibility that these Siberians may be a greater threat to the center’s control of that region with its enormous reserves of natural resources than the Chinese will ever represent.
Although the results of the last census have not yet been officially published, officials in Rosstat’s regional adminsitraitons have acknowledged that a significant number of residentsof “Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Barnaul, and Yakutsk have declared themselves to be “Siberians” rather than Russians (rusrep.ru/article/2011/02/22/sibir/).
Such declarations, especially given that only eight years earlier, few if any of the ethnic Russians there declared that nationality, reflect a reality which can be seen with the unaided eye, a Russky reporter journalist says, and “form a threat which five to ten years from now may declare itself more loudly than the Caucasus.”
During the 2002 census, a Rosstat official said, “the majority of these people considered themselves to be Russian” by nationality. But “after only eight years, they have become Siberians,” adding that there “really are a lot of them!” Moreover, the Rosstat official noted, there would have been more if the census had been conducted honestly.
In many cases, he said, the census takers did not do their jobs properly. They did not go anywhere and simply “filled the forms using data from housing books [and] there were in general no Siberians in those books,” only ethnic Russians or some other nationality. Moreover, officials actively discouraged people from calling themselves something other than Russians.
“It is indicative,” the journalist said, “that initially the idea of writing down ‘Siberian’ was born in the Internet, and thiswasviewedby many as the latest flashmob action of young people, but unexpectedly for the initiatorsitquickly passed beyond the limits of virtual space and began to win over the masses.”
Aleksandr Konovalov, a Krasnoyarsk blogger, who helped organize the effort, said that he “feels himself to be a Siberian … we are different [that Russians]. This is difficult to explain but it’s so. In general, I consider that we do not know what Russians are. During the Soviet period, we lost Russian culture and became ‘the Soviet people.’”
As a result, the blogger continued, “a Russian is some kind of an abstraction. Even our country is Russia not Rus. Siberian is more concrete.” Moreover, Konovalovsaid, “the image of Russians both in the country and abroad is very poor. But this negative attitude does not extend to Siberians.”
Konovalov explained why the Siberians had chosen to use the census to announce themselves to the world. “Meetings today are in fact prohibited, and the census becameth eonly all-national possibility to express protest.” Moreover, people in Siberia are moremistreated than those in the Caucasus who at least are showered with budget funds.
According to the report in “Russky reporter,” when Siberians talk about Muscovites, they are referring “not to the residents of Moscow but to a certain evil community, therepresentatives of which conduct themselves the way the British administrationdid in colonial America” – taking away as much of value as possible and leaving as little to the residents.
Many in Moscow see the Siberian movement as “laughable” because they are certain that “no one will ever leave Russia.” But some Siberians say that even if they don’t seek independence – and many of them deny that as a goal – their self-identification as Siberians is important because it helps them overcome self-destructive Russian behaviors.
And Russians in the region say that if the Siberians change their minds and do pursue separatist goals, arguing that they are victims of “colonialism and imperialism,” then beyond any doubt, Moscow will use armed force to restrain them. “Any state would resolve such a problem with force,” they say.