Monday, April 23, 2018

Genetically Tatars and Bashkirs are More Different than Their Cultures and Identities Are


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Many people in Western countries have been bombarded with advertisements for genetic testing so that they can learn their “real” ethnicity, and many in Eurasia have been told by Moscow that various groups of Tatars can’t be related because they are genetically different -- as if ethnicity was defined by genetics rather than history and culture.

            The Moscow effort to suggest ethnicity “proves” that Siberian Tatars, Kazan Tatars and Crimean Tatars can’t be one people (gazeta.ru/science/2016/12/14_a_10425539.shtml#page1) has been sharply criticized by Tatar scholars like Damir Iskhakov who say “the definition of a nation [by genetics]  leads to mistaken conclusions” about national identities.

            Nonetheless, genetic testing can provide important clues about the early history and development of various ethnic groups even if it can’t supplant studies of culture or politics or psychology, but as Iskhakov says, it must be used carefully lest it “biologize” and thereby “reify” nations and national identities.

            A new genetic study by BioMed Central of 30 groups living between the Baltic Sea and Lake Baikal (bmcgenet.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12863-017-0578-3) provides some intriguing clues about the history of various nations, none more intriguing than about some important differences in the bases of the Tatar and Bashkir nations. 

            In an essay for the IdealReal portal, analyst Ramazan Alpaut reviews the BntnioMed Central findings about the Bashkirs and Tatars and concludes that the Bashkirs are closely related to the Hanty and thus likely have their origins in Finno-Ugric communities (idelreal.org/a/башкиры-ближе-к-хантам-и-венграм-татары-к-европейцам/29177069.html).

            “The Idel Ural region,” Alpaut writes, “are populated as is well known by three groups of peoples: the Uralic, the Turkic and the Slavic.” The Bashkirs and Tatars are the chief representatives of the Turkic group, but despite their linguistic closeness, “generically they are significantly different from one another.”

                “The Tatars have much in common with the genetics of neighboring countries while the Bashkirs have more in common with those who live in other regions.”  That suggests, the Idel-Ural writer says, that “the Bashkirs initially were not Turkic but an ethnic group which subsequently adopted a Turkic language.”

            At the same time, Alpaut continues, “the Volga Tatars represent at the genetic level a mixture of Bulgars who had a significant Finno-Ugric component, the Pechenets, the Kumans, the Khazars, local Finno-Ugric peoples and the Alans.” Thus, the Tatars, but not the Bashkirs, “are essentially a European people with an insignificant East Asian component.”

            Alpaut points out that “analysis on the basis of the principle of genetic similarity is insufficient to categorically assert that the Bashkirs were of Finno-Ugric origin.” But it does suggest that the history of their formation as a nation was more complicated and drew on more sources than many have thought. 

            But such information must be treated with extreme care not only because genetics doesn’t define ethnicity but also because genetic measures used for such comparisons are far from perfect: the percentages often treated as absolutes are in fact relative to sample size and to the total of all genes, making any final conclusions highly problematic.

            Unfortunately, as genetic measurement becomes more common and accessible, ever more people are going to use it without these caveats; and thus such “research” becomes dangerously political especially because it is offered in the guise of science, something it is but only if it is used with the kind of care many simply refuse to devote. 

Belarusians Want More Films Like ‘Death of Stalin’ about More Recent Politicians


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – At the end of last week, Belarusians in the city of Mohylev had the chance to watch the British comedy “The Death of Stalin,” a satire the Russian authorities have denied their citizens the chance to view. After the showing, Belarusians offered their views about the film and about the need for films like it about even more contemporary politicians.  

They also offered up an anecdote about Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka that says something about him but even more about the people who live under his rule (mspring.online/ru/the-death-of-stalin-quotes/, repeated at  belaruspartisan.org/life/422818/).  Among the best of the Belarusians’ comments:

·         “It’s hard for me to view the film, ‘The Death of Stalin’ as a comedy.  In it are shown horrible times when the powers could shoot people without courts or investigations. That the film was shot in the genre of a comedy only intensifies the feeling of horror from what happened at that time. This wasn’t funny.”

·         “I understand why this film was banned in Russia; Putin doesn’t want to show the people himself and his entourage. In Belarus, the situation is different: Lukashenka firmly holds onto power, and there aren’t any people who could pretend to take his place. Therefore, he has nothing to fear from the film. But Putn has around him a multitude of oligarchs and heads of various services which compete among themselves.” Parallels with the film are all too obvious.

·         “It is possible even good that the film ‘Death of Stalin’ was banned in Russia. Otherwise it might have led to explosions and fires at theaters as was the case with ‘Mathilda.”

·         “Censorship in art should occur only when there are calls for murders, terrorism or extremism. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is an example of what should be censored. However, when satirical films are made or books about those in power are written there should not be any censorship.”

·         “In Ukraine Russian serials are banned because the Ukrainians are in fact in a state of war with Russia. They know best of all how propaganda penetrates.”

·         “An information war between Russia and Belarus has been going on for a long time already. I recently read a book and several articles about propaganda methods and manipulation and discovered that all this is employed by Russia … Unfortunately, in Belarus, people don’t have the culture of consuming information so that they can understand where the truth is and where propaganda.”

·         “There has never been anyone one should not be able to laugh about, except perhaps Jesus Christ.”

·         “I wouldn’t be against if someone would film a comedy about Zenon Poznyak … It is necessary to test all politicians with humor: strong leaders survive and laugh at themselves … So, if there were a comedy about Poznyak, I think it would be useful even for him.”

·         “Satire is necessary, without it there can be an explosion in the state. Comedies, anecdotes and jokes about the powers help people relate to them more simply … When they prohibit you from laughing, protest attitudes spread more rapidly.”

·         And one participant in the discussion shared what he said was Lukashenka’s favorite anecdote. The Belarusian leader opens the door of his refrigerator and there inside his beloved wife is shaking, apparently with fear. “He signs and says, you don’t need to shake; I’ve come for the cheese.”

Moscow Hopes Armenian Events Don’t Prove to Be a Real and Infectious Color Revolution


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Russian officials and commentators already are saying the massive popular protests in Armenia which forced Serzh Sargsyan, the former president who had just become prime minister in order to remain in power, to resign are not like the color revolutions that have led to the formation of anti-Moscow governments elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.

            But it is obvious they are concerned about three things: the possibility that the ouster of Sargsyan will become an inspirational model for Russians who also have a president who became a prime minister to keep his power, a shift in Yerevan’s relationship with Moscow, and a possible upsurge in along the ceasefire line between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

            This last “fear” may also be an indication of something Moscow might try to provoke: any Azerbaijani moves will simultaneously unite Armenians and ensure that they will continue to look to Moscow rather than anywhere else for their security, a reality officials in Baku almost certainly understand however tempted they might be to exploit the unrest in Armenia.

            The Znak news portal has provided one of the first roundups of Russian opinion and commentary (znak.com/2018-04-23/kak_v_rossii_reagiruyut_na_smenu_vlasti_v_armenii_v_rezultate_narodnogo_protesta).  Among the key Russian statements it records are the following:

·         Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariya Zakharova writes on Facebook that “a people which has the strength even in the most complicated moments of its history not to split up but to preserve respect for one another despite categorial disagreements is a great people. Armenia, Russia is always with you!”

·         Igor Lebedev, the LDPR politician who is deputy speaker of the Duma, says that the Armenian people have shown that “no one wants to put up with one and the same individual at the head of the state for decades. There needs to be changes in those in power and in their parties.”

·         Lev Shlosberg, leader of the Yabloko Parrty in Pskov, says that the events show the triumph of “the will of the people.”

·         Gennady Gudkov, a former member of the Duma and an opposition politician, says that “Armenia provides an example for Russia. He says he imagines that officials in the Kremlin are worried by the precedent of a people unwilling to tolerate political twists and turns to keep one person on top of the political system forever.  The Armenians have “stopped the slide toward totalitarianism.”

·         Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Moscow foreign policy commentator, predicts that with Sargsyan’s departure, there will follow “stormy new elections” because “the Armenian power structure turned out to be more rickety than we thought.” Sargsyan was right to go under the circumstances, but any such retirement under pressure of crowds in the streets is always “fraught” with problems.

Pro-Moscow Armenians, like commentator Armen Gasparyan, however, are providing some reassurance to the Russian government.  In a comment for the Nakanune news agency, he says that the Armenian opposition and the Armenian authorities view Russia as their country’s “main strategic partner” in all respects (nakanune.ru/news/2018/04/23/22505341/).