Accepted Paper:

Who is indigenous in Altai? The legacy of Soviet ethnic categories in contemporary Siberia  
Ulrika Persson-Fischier (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

In the Altai Republic a first claim is that there are no indigenous peoples in Altai, a second that there are some indigenous peoples, and a third that there are only indigenous peoples. This paper discusses these apparent contradictions in the context of the Soviet Union and its policies.

Paper long abstract:

In the Republic of Altai, there are three public ways of defining who is indigenous. The first definition claims there are no indigenous peoples in Altai, the second that there are some indigenous peoples in Altai and the third that there are only indigenous peoples in Altai.

The Soviet Union was never a colonial state in the classical sense, but it functioned in a similar way. Not only did the Soviet Union incorporate territories and peoples into it, also when implementing socialism it treated many of its citizens in its periphery in a similar fashion as did other colonizers. One of the great challenges of the Soviet power was to control the many different peoples in the Union. To this end, ethnic categories were important tools. Systems of ethnic categorization were used to legitimize coercion, at the same time as they appeared to allow ethnic diversity. In Russia today, these ethnic categories and underlying systems of understanding are used in different and competing ways, to deal with some of the problems of the post- Soviet legacy.

In Altai, ethnic categories originating in Soviet ideology and practice are used to legitimate, on the one hand, the newly received status as Republic, which is the highest form of autonomy for a subject within the Russian Federation. On the other hand, ethnic categories are used to argue for indigenous minority rights for a small portion of the population in Altai, according to criteria stemming from Soviet ideology and practice. In addition, in the last few years, a third definition of indigeniety, originating in an international discourse on indigenous peoples has gained ground in Altai. This definition distances itself from the post-Soviet legacy all together.

The interaction between the actors upholding these three definitions of the indigenous in Altai have complex effects that have been the source of open conflict between actors, as well as constituting potential alternative tools for pragmatic use. Important actors in this interaction are foreign, Moscow-based and republican anthropologists, who act as upholders of all three definitions of the indigenous in Altai.

Panel W060
Strategic uses of colonial legacies in postcolonial encounters