Neotraditionalism in the Russian north: indigenous peoples and the legacy of perestroika

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Neotraditionalism 1999_ENG

Neotraditionalism in the Russian north: indigenous peoples and the legacy of perestroika

Edited by Aleksandr Pika
Edited in English by Bruce Grant,
With a New Afterword by Boris Prokhorov

Canadian Circumpolar Institute, Edmonton University of Washington Press, Seattle and London
Circumpolar Research Series No. 6
ISBN 1-896445-12-8
Full text of the book is available here.


Preface to the English Edition

Bruce Grant Swarthmore, 1998

One of the most distinctive traits of Soviet anthropological writing that long struck Western observers was the frequent use of multiple authorship, a tradition that drew on the deeply rooted sense of collectivism that underwrote Soviet life. On the one hand, Soviet scholars without rank or influence were often left with only two publishing options — adding their names to long running group projects, or having their work simply published under the name of their home institution. Yet while collective scholarship sometimes downplayed internal ideological differences, it could also bring together the best minds in the field to produce texts of vigorous debate, leaving a wide berth for criticism and reform. This English translation of Neotraditionalism in the Russian North follows in a certain Soviet spirit by bringing together the contributions of over a dozen Siberia specialists for a fresh critical look at post-Soviet indigenous landscapes.

The Russian edition of this book, Neotmditsiomlizm na Rossiiskom Severe (Moscow, 1994) began as an edited collection of field reports assembled by the Russian anthropologist Aleksandr Pika, together with his senior colleague, Boris Prokhorov. Well known to many in their field, both men had collaborated years before on an influential 1988 essay, «The Big Problems of Small Peoples.»[1] The article proved a pathbreaking event in Siberian studies, both within and beyond the former USSR, chronicling for the first time since World War Two the considerable problems faced by indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Russian Far East. When Pika and Prokhorov sought to issue a fuller assessment for the Neotraditionalism book six years later, they drew on a wide body of fresh analysis from some of the best northernists in Russia — Elena Andreeva, Dmitrii Bogoiavlenskii, Liudmila Bogoslovskaia, Sergei Gusev, Tatiana Ivanova, Vladimir Leksin, OPga Murashko, Lidiia Terent’eva and Nikolai Vakhtin. Neotraditsionalizm na Rossiiskom Severe appeared with a small print rim of 500 copies, a sign of the financial duress in post-Soviet publishing. However, it circulated quickly among specialists around the world, becoming, and remaining today, the premier chronicle of Siberian indigenous movements after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The book’s central editor, Aleksandr Pika, brought a lifetime of research on northern affairs to bear upon the project. He was bom in 1951 in the Russian far eastern town of Ussuriisk (formerly Voroshilov) in the Primorski! Krai. In 1972, after serving in the army, he entered the Department of Ethnography at Moscow State University, remaining for ten years until the completion of his doctoral dissertation, «Sos’vin Mansi as an Ethnosocial Community.» From 1978 to 1981 he worked in the Institute for Nature Conservation in Moscow, studying traditional land use among northern indigenous Siberians. In 1981 he became a researcher in the Demography Division of Moscow’s Institute for Sociological Research; by 1987 he was also a key scholar at the Center for Human Demography and Ecology at the Institute for Economic Forecasting.

In the sometimes evasively Aesopian language of Soviet academe, the writings of Pika and a small group of colleagues set them apart from the more standard Soviet narratives of self-congratulation, official directives which asserted that the state had fully resolved problems of northern life under communism. They traveled the North extensively, became fluent in indigenous languages and generated their own statistical databases on pressing social issues such as rates of suicide and illness when the Soviet government would not. With the publication of the highly critical 1988 article, ironically if strategically placed in the journal Kommunist, Pika’s career took off. He went on to organize the Moscow bureau of the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), as well as to found Russia’s own northern rights agency, «Anxious North» [Trevozhnyi Sever]. Whether he was working in Moscow or Surgut, Fairbanks or Paris, he was an uncommonly generous human being who came to personify a new generation of cooperation between native northerners, scholars and activists across Siberia and the Russian Far East. Were he alive today, he likely would have overseen this translation himself.

On September 7th, 1995, Aleksandr Pika disappeared after setting out in a boat with eight other people from the Chukotkan coastal town of Sireniki. With him were five Eskimo residents of Sireniki and three American researchers — Steven McNabb, a scientist from the Social Research Institute; Richard Condon, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, and editor of the journal, Arctic Anthropology; and Dr. Bill Richards, Chief of Mental Health in the Alaskan Indian Health Service.[2] Five days later, only the overturned boat and the bodies of five of the passengers, Pika’s not among them, had been found. Pika and McNabb had been the principal co-investigators of a National Science Foundation project, «Social Transformations in the North: American Alaska and the Russian Far East.» Together over a four year period they had been surveying six native villages in Chukotka, six in Kamchatka, and four in Alaska to investigate shared northern problems of alcoholism, suicide, and incidents of violent death, as well as the efforts to combat these problems through increased standards of living. As the Russian leader of the project, Pika had been among the first cohort of Soviet researchers to advocate international cooperation when Siberia and the Russian Far East opened to foreign researchers in the late 1980s.

In Pika’s memory, seven North American Siberianists came together for the assembling of Neotraditionalism’s English edition. Gail Fondahl translated Chapters 1, 2, and 3, and oversaw the map production; David Anderson translated Chapters 6,7, and 8; David Koester translated Chapters 9,10, and 11; and Christina D. Kincaid and Alexander D. King translated Chapter 12. Bruce Grant edited the volume as a whole, preparing the Frontmatter, bibliography and indices, and translating the Preface to the Russian Edition, Chapters 4,5, and the Afterword. The Chukotkan specialist Patty Gray generously set to work on translating a number of Russian legal documents on indigenous policy since 1991 (Appendix B) to supplant the more commonly available international documents Pika and Prokhorov originally used. Clifford Hickey and Elaine Maloney from the Canadian Circumpolar Institute, as well as Michael Duckworth, from the University of Washington Press, generously shepherded this edition through publication.

To the English edition we have made a number of key additions to enhance its utility as a guide to post-Soviet Siberian native studies. New glossaries and an English language bibliography expand the book’s reference base, while the framing provided by Pika and Prokhorov’s 1988 Foreword, as well as Prokhorov’s 1997 Afterword, locate the work in historical context. Legal initiatives proposed or passed in Russia since 1992 frame the book’s contributions to policy development. Finally, we have added twenty-three of Aleksandr Pika’s own photographs from his Siberian travels, capturing so well the human side of Russia’s North that was his life’s work.

In the course of preparing the book, several others have joined efforts. Dima Bogoiavlenskii, Igor’ Kruprdk, Ol’ga Murashko, Tatiana Pika and Boris Prokhorov regularly intervened to answer translation queries, check the text, or provide new materials. Boris Prokhorov, who had originally been listed as co-editor of the 1994 edition, elected to have his name dropped in recognition of Pika’s central contribution, further offering us the new retrospective Afterword. At Swarthmore College where the book was assembled, Nancy McGlamery read over early drafts.

Neotraditionalism, the guiding concept behind the book’s analysis of prospects for reform in the Russian North, looks to find a new place for Siberian indigenous cultures long suppressed under Soviet power. But as Pika reminds us at the outset of the book, neotraditionalism itself is neither a policy nor a directive. It is a platform for new ideas to meet old problems, a premise that neither negates the character of post-Soviet life nor looks to imitate non-Russian models. With the passage of the former USSR, indigenous Siberia now has at least two major epochs to draw from, the pre-Soviet and the Soviet. Indeed, the constant tacking back and forth between historical precedents is part of the rebuilding process at work in Siberian indigenous politics today. This new tradition informs the comparative perspective this book offers, by building, we think in the strongest way, on the collective example of our Russian colleagues.

[1] First published in Russian under the title «Bol’shie problemy malykh naro- dov,» Kommunist, no. 16 (1988): 76-83. First published in English as «Soviet Union: The Big Problems of Small Ethnic Groups,» IWGIA [International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs] Newsletter, no. 57 (1989): 123-135.

[2] Russian language accounts on the accident and the lives of the lost Sireniki residents can be found in Ol’ga Murashko and Dmitrii Bogoiavlenskii, «Bai- dara otoshla navsegda…» [The boat sailed away forever…], Severnye Prostory 6 (1995), 41-43; and Ol’ga Murashko, William Fitzhugh, Igor’ Krupnik and L. Lipatova, «Parmati Aleksandra Piki» [Memories of Aleksandr Pika], Zhivaia Arktika 1 (1996), 8-10. English-language obituaries for Richard Condon, Steven McNabb, Aleksandr Pika and Bill Richards can be found in Anthropology Newsletter, November 1995,46-47.

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