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Assessment for Buryat in Russia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Buryat in Russia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
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.
Russia Facts
Area:    17,075,200 sq. km.
Capital:    Moscow
Total Population:    146,881,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Buryats show little risk for rebellion in the near future, despite territorial concentration and a strong group identity. Russia's central government, in accommodating aspirations for autonomy, has alleviated grievances that could possibly lead to rebellion. Buryat protest has also been low in the post-Soviet era. Low levels of protest, especially regarding economic conditions, were present during the 1990s but have been absent in more recent years and are likely to remain as such barring a serious deterioration of conditions. This said, Buryat, and Buryatia, seems most at risk due to environmental and economic factors: Lake Baikal faces serious environmental challenges, which include economic challenges; persistent unemployment and poverty remain severe problems; and finally, stresses on the public health system, such as high disease rates, continue to pose an obstacle to economic development.

Analytic Summary

The Buryat are ethnically a mixture of Mongol, Turkic, Tugus, Saoyed and other peoples. They have maintained close links with other Mongol peoples throughout their history. Their traditional lands are located north of the Russian-Mongolian border near Lake Baikal. More than half of all Buryat live within the Autonomous Republic of Buryatia, with the remainder dispersed throughout the Siberian region and Russia (GROUPCON = 2). Many Buryat are Buddhist, although in recent years there has also been a resurgence of shamanism.

Buryatia lies within a strategic zone long contested by Russia, China, Mongolia, and (before 1945) Japan. Thus, historically and today, Buryatia has precariously existed amid the competing spheres of influence of more powerful neighbors. In the post-Soviet era, Buryatia has safeguarded its interests by maintaining good relations with Russia, of which it is a constituent part, and by establishing economic and tacitly political ties with independent Mongolia and China (through China's "Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region"). Another avenue by which Buryats attempt to mitigate Moscow's control is by cultivating links with a wider Mongolian cultural sphere.

Due to Buryatia's strategic location, Tsarist, Soviet, and now Russian Federation authorities have maintained a keen interest in its disposition. Russians have viewed Buryatia as both a danger and an opportunity. Because they are Asian and Buddhist, Russians have feared Buryats as a possibly disloyal element within their empire. For example, during the political maneuvers of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Tokyo sponsored a "pan-Mongol" movement in the hope of co-opting Buryats, a stratagem which deeply concerned the Russians. Tsarist officials must also have been impressed by the initiative, for in the years before World War I they likewise supported "pan-Mongolism" as a means of drawing all Mongols under Russian tutelage.

Buryatia, much like other areas of Siberia, has long served as a "dumping ground" for elements considered undesirable by the central government. Among the first Russian immigrants to the area were "Old Believers," who were exiled to Siberia under Peter the Great after Patriarch Nikon's religious reforms. This group was followed by exiles and criminals (political and otherwise) up through the Soviet era. Other Russians immigrated to the area to take advantage of the fur trade or to exploit mineral and other natural resources. These influxes of Russian immigrants resulted in a fragmentation of Buryat culture and of their territorial concentration.

Like most of the peoples colonized by Russia, Buryats have protested their subject status in the past (PROT45X-PROT65X = 1, PROT90X = 2, PROT98X = 3), but Russo-Buryat conflict has lacked the protracted or vicious nature of, for example, the Russo-Chechen wars. During the Russian Civil War fought between Reds and Whites, rather than opposing one side or fighting against both, Buryats largely remained neutral. In the late 1920s, Stalin's policy of forced agricultural collectivization met with determined Buryat resistance. The effects of the Civil War and Stalinization were long-lasting. The pre-revolutionary number of Buryats, 300,000, was again achieved only in the 1970s. Following World War II, Moscow attempted to Russify Buryat culture by banning traditional art forms and by placing Russian academics in charge of Buryat education.

The Buryat have a strong identity (COHESX9 = 5). The Buryat people have had several active cultural organizations since 1991, although only the All Buryat Association for the Development of Culture appeared still active during this decade. The aim of these groups has been to reclaim the Buryat language (which many Buryat speak poorly or not at all) and to revive cultural art forms. The revival of shamanism has led to the formation of an association of shamans, which promotes traditional medicine and also serves as a sort of licensing board for shamans. Politically, Buryats dominate Buryatia's government.

Buryatia experiences public health crises on a regular basis. The Republic has one of the highest tuberculosis rates (twice the national average) in the federation, a rapidly increasing rate of HIV infection, and yearly battles with anthrax, encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis, and other deadly diseases. Furthermore the region is subject to forest fires, flooding, droughts, insect infestation and earthquakes (DMENV99, DMENV00, DMENV03 = 2). A severe drought in 2003 led to an official state of emergency. The region, despite its natural wealth, remains poverty-stricken.

Traditionally, Buryat have sought greater political control in Buryatia. Political control has been sought in part as a vehicle for cultural autonomy and control over the vast natural resources of Buryatia. In the post-Soviet era, Buryat have dominated the administration of Buryatia, and Buryatia has achieved wide autonomy. While this has allowed them to realize some other aspirations (in particular, Buryat-language education), political control of the region has not necessarily led to economic control over natural resources. Group grievances primarily revolve around cultural issues today (CULGR203, CULGR302 = 2).

Despite some ethnic tension in the region, Buryatia has not seen the ethnic violence present in other areas of the Russian Federation (COMCO98X = 0; INTERCON03 = 0). Furthermore, levels of protest, while persistent previously at low levels (PROT90X = 2, PROT98X = 3), have disappeared in recent years (PROT99-03 = 0). In the post-Soviet era, no rebellion has occurred.


BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, numerous stories, 1990-2003.

Lexis-Nexis: All News Files 1996-2003.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "Buryat Ne Khotyat, Chtoby Ikh "Poglashchali"", 06/17/2003.

Olson, James S. An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Pravosashitny Tsentr, "Doklad o Polozhenii s Pravami Cheloveka v Respublikie Buryatia v 2003g." ( -- accessed 04/25/04).

Pravozashitny Tsentr, "Doklad o Proyavlenyakh Natsianalizma, Ksenofobia, I Neterpilivosti Na Territorii Respubliki Buryatia za 2001 god" ( -- accessed 04/25/04).

Reuters World Service, numerous stories, 1990-2003.

TASS, numerous stories, 1990-1995.

Tishkov, Valery. The Principal Problems and Prospects of the Development of National-Territorial Entities in the Russian Federation. Cambridge: Harvard University Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project, n.d. [probably 1992].

Wixman, Ronald. The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1984.

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