Ethnicity or Nationalism?
The Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
MARJORIE MANDELSTAM BALZER
ULIANA ALEKSEEVNA VINOKUROVA
As Eastern and Western analysts struggle to understand the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the temptation is strong to make analogies to the Russian Federation itself. Will it survive, or is it another large and unwieldy empire whose time has passed? Did the "parade of sovereignty declarations" begun in 1990 among Russian republics presage the demise of the Russian (Rossiiskoe) state, or was it a healthy striving for greater federal balance within Russia? The sovereignty declarations, in the views of many non-Russians actively involved in them, were part of a dynamic of interrelated republic politics. This dynamic occurred not because of conspiracies across republic lines against the Russian center but out of the hunger of many different peoples of Russia for federal rights they felt they had been long denied under Soviet rule. And for many, the appetite for greater sovereignty has grown in the eating.
Despite similarities that reflect the legacies of Soviet nationality policies and hierarchical structuring of ethnically based regions, each case within the Russian Federation needs to be described and analyzed in its own historical and cultural context. Certain strategic cases, for example, that of the Sakha Republic of eastern Siberia (the Russian "Far East"), can help reveal the messiness and noninevitability of secession movements. A social anthropological approach is taken here in order to demonstrate why the Sakha case is particularly significant, how its internal interethnic relations have developed, and what this case demonstrates for larger issues of Russian Federation survival. Rather than assume that Russia is an analogue of the Soviet Union or that Russia's recent nationality politics consistently resemble the imperial polarizing style of past multiethnic empires, judgment is suspended. 1 We argue that various national bids for partial sovereignty or full independence have been intertwined in the center—periphery dynamic. Claimed injustices must be reviewed, indigenous leaders heard, and interrepublic relations assessed before generalizations can be made about whether a given Russian federal republic