The Socialist Way of Life in Siberia
Transformation in Buryatia
Melissa Chakars, Saint Joseph’s University
The Buryats are a Mongolian population in Siberian Russia, the largest indigenous minority. The Socialist Way of Life in Siberia presents the dramatic transformation in their everyday lives during the late twentieth century. The book challenges the common notion that the process of modernization during the later Soviet period created a Buryat national assertiveness rather than assimilation or support for the state.
The author examines what it has meant to “be a Buryat” and “be a successful Buryat” in three periods: in the Tsarist Russian Empire; under Socialism; and in present-day Russia. For a number of historical and cultural reasons the Buryats and especially their intellectual elite became an integral and efficient part of the Russian administrative and cultural life. By 1991 they were overrepresented in nearly every profession in their autonomous republic, although they comprised just a quarter of its population. The first monograph devoted to Buryat history and the Soviet modernization, this study questions common ideas regarding nationalism, identity, westernization, modernity, and the tenacity of ethnicity.
"Historians of Russia in Asia have long been familiar with the Buryat scholars of the early 20th century and their pan-Mongolian dreams. Professor Chakars here tells a much less familiar story: how the Buryats, in the aftermath of Stalin's purges, joined the mainstream of Soviet society and became, in effect, Russia's 'model minority.' In this richly documented social history, Professor Chakars shows how Buryats gained leadership in their world and by the 1980s realized they were losing their culture. Scholars of ethnicity and Russia's socialist modernization will find this a fascinating case study of success and its costs."
-- Cristopher P. Atwood, Indiana University
"Those interested in Soviet policy toward nationalities are well-served in The Socialist Way of Life in Siberia. Transformation in Buryatia. Chakars' focus on the largest native groups in Siberia, the Buryats, provides insight into Soviet use of language policies, media, collectivization, and Stalinist use of territorial redistricting for control of ethnic groups. Must reading for those interested in the practical inner-workings of the Soviet Union."
Helen Hundley, Wichita State University
"Making extensive use of local archives and periodicals, Chakars insightfully examines the evolution of Soviet nationality policy in Buryatia. She argues that, far from being merely the passive victims of Communist oppression and Russification, the Buryats energetically utilized the Soviet modernization project to gain strikingly high levels of educational and professional success. However, this success came at the cost of significant assimilation (particularly language loss), leaving many in the post-Soviet generation asking just what it means to be Buryat." -- Robert W. Montgomery,
Baldwin Wallace University
320 pages 12 photos, cloth, 2014
$55.00 / €42.00 / £35.00
"This lucid assessment of post-socialist Buryatia delves back to czarist times to chart an informed trajectory of how Buryat society adapted to become part of the larger Soviet and Russian worlds. The author begins with the subordination of Siberia’s nomadic tribes to colonial rule in the 17th century and the development of local political and intellectual elites. Archival sources document the effects of the civil war, the creation of the Buryat-Mongolian ASSR, and the early Bolsheviks’ short-lived korenizatsiia (fostering of indigenous educational and social elites). Subsequent chapters examine how Buryatia’s demographic and political structure emerged from Stalin’s brutal collectivization, industrialization, and “re-Russification” campaigns, which profoundly affected the entire USSR. The late Soviet era witnessed a rapid growth of Russian literacy and considerable success among the republic’s professional workers within an increasingly Russian Soviet Union. By carefully examining Buryat autobiographical voices, Chakars (Saint Joseph’s Univ.) achieves a nuanced balance between feelings of culture loss and a strong sense of integration with the modern international world. This meticulously researched history successfully portrays Buryatia's uniqueness alongside its status as part of the contemporary Russian Federation. Especially notable for historians and social scientists concerned with northern Asia. Summing Up: Highly recommended". - Choice
"A gift to Joseph Stalin from the 'toiling masses' of Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Republic
on occasion of the republic’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1948 was a traditional
Buryat costume with a wide belt in the form of a chain of silver buckles. Each buckle
depicts an achievement of Soviet modernity: industry, agriculture—and enlightenment,
as on one buckle a lamp is hammered casting light over an open book and
It is as if the very body of the Buryat nation is a traditionally dressed male fi gure
whose silhouette is emphasized by modernity. Melissa Chakars’ insightful, concise
and clearly written book is a historical account of such Soviet framing of twentieth century
Buryat society." - Slavic Review
"Melissa Chakars presents us with a detailed history of this transformation, through investigating the development of three institutions that were key to bringing about the change: the education system, the mass media, and state-sponsored cultural production. In doing so, she enhances our understanding of the diverse and yet thoroughgoing modernization of Soviet-era society, in addition to the phenomenon called ‘modernization’ in general. Her case study illustrates the contingent and varied ways central Soviet policies were translated into regional governance". - Central Asian Survey