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Russia: Treatment of the Buriat (Buryat) people (1999-September 2000)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 27 September 2000
Citation / Document Symbol RUS35179.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Russia: Treatment of the Buriat (Buryat) people (1999-September 2000), 27 September 2000, RUS35179.E, available at: [accessed 2 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to Minorities at Risk Project, the number of Buryats in Russia was estimated at 411, 000 in 1998 or 0.28 per cent of the total population (5 July 2000). The majority of the Buryats lives in the Republic of Buryatia (southern Siberia) (UNPO n.d.) whose total population numbers one million people (IPS 24 Aug. 1999). In 1992, the Buryats constituted 24 per cent of Buryatia's population while the Russians comprised 48 per cent (PER Feb. 1993). Approximately one-third of Buryatia's population is Buddhist (RFE/RL 6 Oct. 1999; IPS 24 Aug. 1999); two-thirds of Russia's 500,000 Buddhist believers live in Buryatia (ibid.).

According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the minority status of the Buryats in Buryatia prevents them from obtaining more autonomy (n.d.). The organization also refers to efforts of Buryatia's Buryats to address "ethnic problems" and to establish links with their brethren living outside the republic (ibid.).

The Buryats are among several "indigenous" peoples in Russia who have striven to protect their culture (Country Reports 1999 Feb. 2000; UNPO n.d.), including their languages (ibid.), and safeguard their regional economic resources (Country Reports 1999 Feb. 2000). The Minorities at Risk Project mentions the Buryat Cultural Heritage Association which has sought to revive the Buryat culture since the collapse of the USSR (5 July 2000).

According to a 24 August 1999 report, Buddhism was experiencing a revival in Buryatia (IPS). Unnamed local officials spoke of Buryatia's "political stability" as partly relying on a "tradition of religious tolerance", which enables Orthodox Christians, Buddhists and Shamanists to co-exist in Buryatia (ibid.). IPS notes, however, the involvement of rival Buddhist "factions" in regional politics (ibid.). According to Dr. Natalia Zhukovskaya, expert on Buddhist studies at the Moscow-based Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, "Buryat authorities are meddling in Buddhist affairs, as an alternative khambo-lama [chief priest] is said to be supported by the authorities" (ibid.). The Buryat Buddhist representative claimed that this support had caused a "schism" in the Buddhist community (ibid.). The alternative khambo-lama was reported to have deposed the incumbent (ibid.). The deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Social Movements and Religious Denominations expressed his concern that the use of religion by Russian regional politicians could trigger violent conflicts (ibid.).

On 18 October 1999, the leader of Russia's Buddhist Church, the Pandito Xambo Lama Damba Ausheev inaugurated a "Buddhist school of higher learning" in Ulan Ude, Buryatia's capital (RFE/RL 20 Oct. 1999).

On 9 September 1999, Itar-Tass reported on the first lectures given at the medical faculty of Buryatia State University with the aim of training medical professionals in Tibetan medicine (MRP n.d.). This initiative was the first of its kind in the history of Russian higher education (ibid.).

Buryatia's authorities requested local shamans, also known as "boo", to provide a list of "genuine" shamans, to distinguish them from "pseudo-boos" (RFE/RL 3 Mar. 1999).

In its "Risk Assessment" section, MRP provides the following comments:

Unlike other regions of Russia, aspiring leaders in Buryatia have not stoked the flames of ethnic discord for political gain. Buryats and Russians have articulated legitimate concerns and expressed them in a non-violent fashion. Buryat and Russian mobilization has been almost entirely peaceful, as demonstrated by the fact that from 1990 to 1995 the Russian media reported no instances of ethnic violence in the republic. On the governmental level, Buryatia has adhered to the Federation Treaty and has declared sovereignty within Russia. Buryat President Leonid Potapov has also lent Russian President Yeltsin critical political support by denouncing efforts by certain regions within Russia to prevent their citizens from serving in the breakaway region of Chechnya. For its part, Moscow has accommodated Buryatia's aspirations for sovereignty. For example, it has allowed the republic to implement its own educational system consistent with local linguistic and cultural concerns.

Buryats seem to be more at risk from environmental factors than the Russians themselves. The Republic has one of the highest tuberculosis rates in the federation, a rapidly increasing rate of HIV infection, and yearly battles with anthrax, encephalitis, and other deadly diseases. According to Interfax, up to 150 infants are born with genetic deviations every year in Buryatia, including extra fingers and toes, elongated tailbones, abnormal hairiness and extra breasts. Doctors blame the abnormalities on genetic problems and unfavorable environmental conditions in Buryatia. Furthermore, the region is prone to flooding, earthquakes, crop-eating pests, and forest fires, which have all increased. These various problems increase Buryatia's dependence on Russia and NGOs for economic aid.

There are some signs of emerging divisions among the Buryat, or more specifically, the Buryat Buddhist community. Some accounts indicate that the May 1998 protests marked a split between more traditional Buddhists and those who favored a break with the official, Russian-sanctioned Buddhist community. If such a break is occurring, there is no evidence of it in the media at present, and no subsequent incidents have arisen.

Given the relative lack of grassroots ethnic hostility and the satisfactory course of government-to-government relations, there is every prospect that the peaceful trend of Russo-Buryat relations will continue (n.d.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. February 2000. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 24 August 1999. Sergei Blagov. "Religion-Russia: Buddhist Revival Entangled in Politics." (NEXIS)

Minorities at Risk Project (MRP) [College Park, Maryland]. 5 July 2000. Buryat in Russia. [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) [Princeton, New Jersey]. February 1993. Allen H. Kassof and Livia B. Plaks. Nationality Policy in the Russian Federation. [Accessed 27 Sept. 2000]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) [Prague]. 20 October 1999. Buryatia: Xambo Lamba Launches New Buddhist School." [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

­­­_____. 6 October 1999. Julie Corwin. "Russia: Controversy Persists in Buryatia over Sacred Texts." [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

_____. 3 March 1999. "Buryatia: Shamans Gather to Compare Votes." [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) [The Hague]. N.d. Buryatia. [Accessed 26 Sept. 2000]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites including:

Amnesty International (AI)


European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI)

Freedom in the World 1999/2000

Hokkaido University Slavic Centre

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF-HR)

Joshua Project 2000 - Unreached People Profile

Minority Electronic Resources (MINELRES)

Minority Rights Group International (MRGI)

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

United Nations

World News Connection (WNC)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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