“Russia Beyond the Russians”

The producers of the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony boasted that Russia is home to 180 nationalities; over 100 of them still retain their indigenous languages. In this course, we consider the rich tapestry of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups living in the Russian Federation today. We shall see that some groups, like the Veps, have been largely acculturated by the Russians, but have left an indelible mark on such aspects of Russian culture as folktales and traditional embroidery patterns. Other groups have been significantly diminished by the uniformity-seeking policies of the Russian state, first under the Tsars, then under the Soviets, and most recently through President Vladimir Putin’s quest for the “national idea” aimed to unify the entire country. Many groups still carry the collective memories of the atrocities that were committed against them in the past and most such groups seek to gain a recognition of their ethnic and cultural uniqueness, increased autonomy, or even full independence, often taking very different approaches ranging from the peaceful Circassian movement to the much more violent Chechen resistance. Along with the history of Russia and its various ethno-linguistic groups, we will consider such elements of contemporary Russian culture as music, cinema, cuisine, ethnic jokes, and more.



1. Russia Beyond the Russians: An Introduction

Arctic05What is “ethnicity”? Russians and non-Russians

Language-less ethnicities: Yezidis, Kazaks, Pomors

The birth of Russia and the Finnic peoples: assimilation of “middle Finns”, Veps culture and their influences, Middle Volga Finnic peoples, “Buranovo Grannies” (Beatles’ “Let It Be”, video, Banderas’ “Bessame Mucho”, video), the Russian-Finnish borderlands

Indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Far East: traditionalism and assimilation, their languages, and interaction with the Russians

The Ugric and Samoyedic peoples: Khanty and Mansi, Enets and Nenets

The Altaic peoples: Mongolic peoples and Buddhism in Russia, Turkic peoples in Russia (Yakut, Tatar), Tungusic peoples

The Paleo-Siberian groups: Chukchi, Koryaks, Itelmen — and Russian ethnic jokes

Other peoples: Yukaghir, Ket, and others

Problems experienced by indigenous peoples of the Far North

Non-territorial ethnicities: Jews and Gypsies (video), Gypsy theater (video)

Russian cuisine as a melting pot

Time zones of Russia

Are You In or Out?—The Potential Unraveling of Geopolitical Tapestry in the Wake of the Crimean Referendum


2. The East Slavs: Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians

banderovcy_UkraineUkraine: ethnicity, language, and geopolitics

Brawl Breaks Out in Ukrainian Parliament Over Language Law

The Tale of Two Ukraines, the “Missing” Five Million Ukrainians, and Surzhyk

How pro-Russian is Southern Ukraine?

“Rabinovich for President!”—Will Ukraine Have a Jewish President?…

The Rusyns and their language

Belarusians and their language

Transnistria, another troubled region


3. “Crimea and Punishment”

Crimea_referendum_poster“Crimea and Punishment”: Comments on the Media Coverage of the Recent Events in Crimea

Was Crimea “always Russian”?

History of Crimea; Crimean Karaim; Crimean Tatars in 1850s, according to Gustav Radde (part 1 and part 2); deportation of Crimean Tatars

Soviet-era ethnic deportations: Baltic peoples, Ukrainians, Finns and Karelians, Koreans, Volga Germans

Yuliy Kim: on the parallels between Khodorkovsky’s trial and dissidents’ trials in the 1960s (video), “The Song of the Fifth Column” (video)

Viktor Tsoi: “Blood Type” (video), “Changes!” (video), Korean rock group performing Tsoi’s song (video)

The GULAG system: Political prisoners in Tsarist Russia, Soviet political prisoners, Magadan


4. “Prisoner of the Caucasus”

caucasus_mountainsPeoples, genes, languages of the North Caucasus

Northwest Caucasus: Circassians and the Sochi Olympics, the death of Ubykh

Northcentral Caucasus: Ossetians and their language

Northeast Caucasus: Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and their peoples

Russia and the Caucasus

Caucasian dances: Abkhaz, Ossetian, Ingush, Chechen, Dagestani




5. “Two Hundred Years Together”?: Russia’s non-territorial ethnicities, Gypsies & Jews

MapPaleofSettlementBackground on the Roma: The Elusive Roma and their Linguistic Legacy; When Did Roma Leave India?


Why are Russian Jews not Russian?

Ashkenazi Jews and Yiddish; Khazars and Yiddish

Crimean Karaim; Karaite Judaism

The birth of Esperanto

Are there Sephardic Jews in Russia?

Birobidzhan: the new Jewish Republic? Birobidzhan today

Re-Branding Soviet-Jewish Nostalgia—Jewish Culture That Never Was

Soccer Championship Stirs Up the Ghost of Anti-Semitism


In conclusion: The “Russian World”—What And Where Is It?