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ML&L 3342, Dr. Bruce Holl, Trinity University, San Antonio, TX

Peoples of Russia

June 29

Siberia

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ML&L 3342
Dr. Bruce Holl, Trinity University
Siberia


• The chief reason for Russian economic growth since 1991 lies in the region we are about to study: Siberia, which possesses tremendous untapped oil and gas reserves
• In Russian the region is called Sibir'
• What do you think of when you hear the word "Siberia"?
• My own interest in the subject dates to a course I took as a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by a geographer named Mark Bassin, who had written a dissertation comparing Siberian history with American history as described by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner
• I quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica about Turner:
• "[Turner] traced the social evolution of frontier life as it continually developed across the continent from the primitive conditions of explorer, trapper, and trader, through maturing agricultural stages, finally reaching the complexity of city and factory. Turner held that the American character was decisively shaped by conditions on the frontier, in particular the abundance of free land, the settling of which engendered such traits as self-reliance, individualism, inventiveness, restless energy, mobility, materialism, and optimism."
• In many ways this is applicable to the Russians in Siberia, or rather, to the way that Russians viewed and continue to view their presence in Siberia
• "Siberia" generally refers to the area bordered in the west by the Ural Mountains, the south by the Kazakh Uplands, and the East by the Pacific Ocean
• The Kazakh Uplands now are a part of Kazakhstan, and the Kazakh government is wary of attempts to term the region "Southern Siberia," which has political as well as geographic implications
• Students of Siberia quite often use the term "Eurasia," to signify the fact that in reality Europe and Asia are one continent, and the terms "Europe" and "Asia" designate political, not geographic entities
• The term Eurasia is now also used by certain political groups and leaders who believe that Russia is as much Asian as it is European and should not look to the west for political or cultural models
• The Pacific coast region is sometimes called the Far East, especially for administrative purposes within Russia itself
• Also included is the large island of Sakhalin in the sea of Japan
• Anna Reid's introductory description, in her book The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia, captures its physical features (pp. 1-2):
• "Defined as all Russian-ruled territory between the Urals and the Pacific, Siberia occupies five million square miles of northern Asia, or a twelfth of the world's landmass. Flying across it from end to end takes seven hours, during six of which, unless you overfly the southerly Trans-Siberia Railway, the bogs and forests below display no sign whatsoever of mankind's existence. In its deepest backwoods survey parties still stumble across strange, shy families who have never heard of Lenin or the Second World War. Although it encompasses farmland and steppe as well as forest and tundra, for the most part it is cold indeed. Winter temperatures average minus 30-40 degrees, and can plunge into the minus 60s. In such conditions mercury turns to lead, brandy to syrup. Living trees explode with a sound like gunfire, chopped logs strike blue sparks, and exhaled breath falls to the ground like a shower of crystals, with a rustling sound called the 'whispering of the stars'" (1-2).

Early History
• There had been some Russian forays into the territory to the east of the Ural Mountains as early as the Kiev/Novgorod period
• Even then, all regions of Siberia were inhabited.
• There is evidence, in fact, that by 3500 BCE there were different Neolithic cultures throughout Siberia
• Thus, although most regions of Siberia were sparsely populated, there is no time when the Russians can be said to have pushed eastward into "uninhabited lands"
• At the same time, it is not entirely accurate to say that the Russians came as conquerors of an existing country or civilization
• There were about 250,000 inhabitants in this entire area – one twelfth of the world's landmass -- at the time of the Russians' arrival
• This is about one person for every 28 square miles
• On the one hand, this would seem to bolster the Russian claim of the time that the land was basically uninhabited
• At the same time, this seems to have been the amount of land needed to support the way of life of the native inhabitants
• By the end of the 17th century there were about the same number of Russians and native inhabitants: 150,000-200,000 each
• Among the reasons for a decrease in native population was small pox
• The first outbreak occurred in 1630 in Western Siberia
• Within twenty years the disease had reached the Tungus further east in Siberia
• By the end of the 19th century there would be close to one million Russians in Siberia
• Anna Reid in 2002 reported that native peoples numbered 1.6 million out of a total population of 32 million (Reid 4). A widely cited report by the Demographics Institute of the Higher School of Economics places the population of Siberia and the Far East today at around 26 million.
• At the time of the arrival of the Russians, many groups were already established in all regions of Siberia
• See James Forsyth, A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581-1990 (Cambridge, 1992)
• Substantial Russian activity in Siberia began in the middle of the 16th century
• The first Russian attempt to occupy territory east of the Urals occurred at the end of the 15th century
• Under Ivan IV the Russians defeated the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, thus removing the major military deterrent to eastward expansion
• Expansion to the east for commercial purposes began at this time
• Although the government eventually would try to control the outflow of resources from Siberia, from the outset private individuals played an important role
• The first of these was Grigorii Stroganov, whose family, one of the wealthiest it Russia, received a charter to colonize "empty lands" in western Siberia.
• This initiated the in-migration of Russian settlers and the establishment of towns in western Siberia.
• By 1584, Ivan's son Fedor decreed that further expansion into Siberia would be carried out by government troops in the name of the government.
• Almost from the beginning of Russian expansion into Siberia, therefore, the Russians sent troops and began consolidating territorial gains by building fortresses
• They also began at the time (as they would later in the Caucasus) soliciting local leaders to help them, and collecting tribute from indigenous residents
• As in the Caucasus, there was (and would continue to be) resistance to the Russian occupation
• This was particularly true of the Tatars but was true of other, native Siberian groups as well
• The original charter to the Stroganovs allowed them to mine for iron and salt
• Early on, however, they discovered another resource that was much more valuable: furs
• The most valuable fur was that of the sable
• The European market for sable fur was such that literally a few skins from one expedition could make an individual financially secure for life
• The Russians were willing to trade for furs in some cases, often trading household items such as knives or pots and pans to the native peoples, who did not place a particularly high value on sable furs
• Eventually, the Russians came to use any means possible to obtain the furs, which became the medium for paying tribute by the native peoples to the Russians
• The result of this was that many areas of Siberia were over-trapped and the animals disappeared.
• Ultimately, the influx of soldiers, traders and government officials to Siberia created a problem of logistics
• To ship food was impractical, so it was decided to make the Siberian colony agriculturally self-sufficient
• For this purpose, peasants were re-located to Siberia to clear forests and cultivate land
• Unfortunately, much of this land had been the sole means of subsistence for the native people, who had used it for reindeer grazing or for hunting
• Thus the in-migration of peasants resulted in the dislocation of many people who were forced to move elsewhere to survive
• One of the first Russian groups to enter Siberia, from the very beginnings of Russian presence there, was the exiles
• The exile population consisted of convicted criminals, but also political prisoners and prisoners of war from virtually every war that Russia fought
• Yet another group of early Russian migrants were the Old Believers, a group of Ultra-Orthodox Christians, led by the Archpriest Avvakum, who refused to accept liturgical reforms in the 17th century (see my article on the subject in Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine, eds., Heaven and Hell: The Myth of Siberia in Russian Culture)
• Many Old Believers moved to the Altai Mountains east of Lake Baikal, where they led an isolated existence into the 20th century
• A final group of migrants to Siberia were women
• Although many Russian men married women from the native population, there were also attempts on the part of the government to send women to Siberia for purposes of marriage

The Middle-Late 19th Century
• Toward the middle of the 19th century the notion of colonizing Siberia and populating it with Russians came to take on greater significance
• In particular this was true of the Amur river basin near the Chinese border in southeastern Siberia
• This is the topic of the book Imperial Visions: Nationalist Imagination and Geographical Expansion in the Russian Far East, 1840-1865, by the geographer Mark Bassin
• The reasons for this expansion were numerous:
• The Russians believed that the Amur would provide an outlet to the Pacific for military and commercial purposes
• They believed that it would strengthen their military position with respect to the Chinese and Japanese
• They believed that it would provide a waterway to other parts of Siberia
• They believed that it contained a wealth of minerals and furs
• They believed that it had a temperate climate which would allow not only self-sustaining agriculture, but also a surplus to feed other parts of Siberia
• The believed also that it was their destiny to colonize and populate Siberia, just as the Americans had populated western North America
• In fact, there was a debate for a time in the mid-19th century as to whether the Russians should continue to try to compete with the Americans in North America, or focus on Siberia – which is what they ultimately decided to do, in part because they could see that they had no chance in North America
• The Amur region came for a time in the 19th century to be perceived as a kind of frontier promised land
• It was a common topic in the popular press and many first-hand accounts described it as a paradise
• The problem with this whole project was that the Amur basin was not, in fact, the paradise that many Russians thought it to be
• The mouth of the Amur did not make a convenient port and the river itself was shallow and difficult to navigate in many places
• The climate was slightly better than some other parts of Siberia, but still quite harsh and not good enough for profitable agriculture
• The furs were of poor quality, the silver and gold were less plentiful than anticipated
• The terrain in all areas was extremely rough
• Ultimately, the notion of populating the Amur basin was abandoned
• However, the notion of Siberia as a promised land was retained and in some sense motivated Soviet policy as well

Soviet development policy in general
• Siberia became the last refuge for some "Whites"
• A short-lived "Republic of Siberia" was established
• After the White loss some émigrés fled to Kharbin, a Russian city in China established in the late 19th century to aid Russian businessmen in the region
• The Soviet period saw the vast expansion of the prison system, which (as you know) came to be known by its Russian acronym, GULag
• Resource extraction during the Soviet period became one of the main national goals of Soviet economic planners
• Fur was important as before but also precious metals including gold and silver and other metals, coal, oil and gas, timber, and hydroelectric power
• As in the nineteenth century there was an attempt to populate parts of Siberia
• There was a concerted effort to lure workers for two-year stretches by paying significantly higher wages than in European Russia
• The hope was that large numbers ultimately would settle there permanently
• The plan was eventually to have not only resource extraction but also industry in Siberia
• To this end large cities with industrial centers were built, generally near rivers to take advantage of hydroelectric power
• Problems with this plan included:
• The lack of infrastructure: workers would not stay, because there was nowhere to spend their money in the new Siberian cities
• They often returned to European Russia after two years
• A prime example of this phenomenon is the Bratsk Hydroelectric station and industrial complex on the Angara River
• It was hailed as a great Soviet achievement but never reached anywhere near full capacity
• The Soviets also found these new cities and industrial complexes difficult to supply.
• Some agriculture is possible in southern Siberia but not enough to sustain huge cities
• There were (and are) few roads or even railroads, so supplies had to be shipped in by the incredibly expensive method of air freight
• Other problems included:
• Environmental degradation, e. g., the paper industry on Lake Baikal
• The displacement of indigenous peoples
• Difficulties of resource extraction (the distances involved, the need to drill through permafrost)
• The quality of some of the products (coal, in particular)
• The impossibility of transmitting hydroelectric energy

Recent Times
• Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when it became possible to profit from successful resource extraction, many of these problems have been overcome
• Oil and gas have supported Russia's substantial economic growth since 1998 and energy export to not-European countries is a major part of their plan to survive EU and American sanctions
• In the early post-Soviet period Russian companies, often with foreign partners, were very successful, and many Russians became wealthy
• After that time, as the price of oil rose from around $20/barrel at the inception of the Russian Federation to more than $140/barrel, the Russian government reacquired some of Siberia's oil assets.
• A company named Yukos, whose owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, became very wealthy in the 1990s, was broken up and acquired by Rosneft, the Russian government's oil company, ostensibly because Khodorkovsky had committed tax fraud and other economic crimes
• There is a widespread belief that Khodorkovsky was arrested because he openly discussed mounting a political challenge to President Putin and the establishment, while other oil magnates who acquired their wealth in the same way were left alone
• Khodorkovsky, along with his partner Platon Lebedev, remained in prison until December, 2013 when they were pardoned
• Khodorkovsky now lives in Switzerland and has been a critic of recent Russian policy in the Ukraine
• Yukos shareholders in various courts outside of Russia have been awarded judgements against the Russian government, and the governments in these countries (including the United States) have threatened to seize (an in some cases briefly have seized) Russian government assets.
• The Russian government has denied the legitimacy of these judgements and does not appear to have lost any money yet.
• The Russian government, meanwhile, has announced a number of initiatives to continue the commercial development of Siberia
• At least theoretically these initiatives have taken environmental considerations into account
• The largest controversy involves the paper mill on the shores of Lake Baikal
• The mill was opened in the 1960s and began polluting the lake, which led to some of the earliest public protests in the USSR
• In post-Soviet times the mill was closed, and re-opened on the rationale that it was the sole source of support for the people in the "mono-city" around it, and finally (?) shut down for good late in 2013
• Various plans to populate Siberia continue to this day
• In May of 2016 Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that allows any Russian citizen to receive one hectare of land in the Far East
• The citizen must develop the land and has the right to rent it out or keep it as personal property after 5 years.
• When the bill was announced critics such as Alexei Navalny predicted that it was in reality a way for members of the government to enrich themselves
• On June 26, 2017 it was reported in the Russian press in the Far East that in the Khabarovsk region many of the hectares being distributed to new owners actually belong to long-time residents who have used the land to grow food. {No land with housing on it has been appropriated.]
• Apparently the deeds to the properties were created in 1994, shortly after the dissolution of the USSR, and need to be replaced by new documents that show proper boundaries, taxes, etc.
• Local authorities, according to the article, have refused to issue new documents
• Now these authorities are taking over the land
• One article in the Amur Press stated: "Жители Кругликово готовы защищать свои земли с вилами в руках от ДВ-гектарщиков" [Residents of Kruglikogo are prepared to defend their land with pitchforks in hand from people claiming the Far-Eastern Hectare].








posted at 13:29 U.S. Central Time Zone on Friday 29 June 2018 by Dr. Bruce Holl