The Socialist Way of Life in Siberia

Transformation in Buryatia
$90.00 / €79.00 / £71.00
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Publication date: 
320 pages 12 photos

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.

Notes on Transliteration and Translation

Modernization and Soviet Success
Institutions and the Culture of Progress
Buryat Exceptionalism and Advancement
Outline of Chapters

Chapter 1
The Buryats of Siberia: From Imperial Russia to the Soviet State
The Mongols of Siberia and Russian Expansion
Buddhism in Buryatia
The Buryats and the Imperial Government
Buryat Intellectual and Political Activity
The Civil War and the Competition over Siberia
Autonomy and Korenizatsiia

Chapter 2
Stalinism in Buryatia
Collectivization and the End of Nomadism
Terrorizing and Purging the Buryat Elite
Territorial Changes to Divide the Buryats
Laying the Foundations for a New Culture
Industrial Immigrants

Chapter 3
The New Buryats
The Postwar Buryat Migration
Buryat Professionals
Buryat Women
Political Leadership

Chapter 4
Education for Change
Building Soviet Education in Eastern Siberia
Buryat National Schools
Teaching Progress, Patriotism, and the Friendship of Nations
Teachers and Parents
Education and High Culture for Young and Old Alike

Chapter 5
Buryat Literature for a New Society
Producing High Culture Through Literature
Geser: The Story of a National Epic
Getting It Right: Censorship and Acceptable Narratives
The Decline of Buryat Language Publishing and Literature

Chapter 6
A Means to Modernity: Newspapers, Radio, and Television
The Local Press in Buryat and Russian
The Development of Broadcast Media
Radio and Television Programming

Chapter 7
Reform, But What Kind?
Glasnost’ and the Buryat National Movement: 1986–89
The Competition Heats Up: 1990
The Buryats and the End of the USSR: 1991



"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"
"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... more
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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 musical instruments. 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."