Siberia Hot and Cold: Reconstructing the Image of Siberian Indigenous Peoples

  • Bruce Grant


Ever since the 1960s, when Soviet leaders began to announce that the formation of the Soviet nation had been achieved, Siberian indigenous peoples have been roundly praised for their heroic leap from primitive-communal society to socialism. In contrast to their more populous counterparts around the Soviet Union, Siberian peoples were considered to be less advanced along the Marxist scale of historical progress, and their induction into modernity meant the bypassing of the slaveholding, feudal, and capitalist modes of production. Numerous book titles herald this “stride across a thousand years” where the early days of social reconstruction were “equal to centuries,” and it became customary to preface studies of Siberian native culture with passages such as the following: “The results of this gigantic undertaking [socialist construction] are readily visible: the liquidation of illiteracy, the creation of written languages, the rise of native literary, musical and dance ensembles, and finally, the very existence of native intelligentsias-—all this permits us to conclude that the cultures of [northern] native peoples have ceased to be ‘traditional’ and have begun to be ‘historic,’ that is, developing.”1 Thus, through the cultural development of northern peoples, “a planned and directed process,”2 the Soviet government drew the indigenous population out from timelessness and brought them into history. Such a passage from tradition to modernity was equally congruent with the Soviet nationality policy that was emergent in the 1920s.


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© Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine 1993

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  • Bruce Grant

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