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Ethnic groups and languages in Russia

Russia is the biggest country on earth, its territory extends in Europe and Asia, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, from the Caucasian mountains to the Siberian tundra. It is composed of very diverse landscape as well as many different people with different cultures, languages or traditions. Actually, there are more than 150 ethnic groups in Russia, those groups can vary from millions of individuals to a few thousand. If I tell you “Tatar” you think about “Steak Tartare”, then you clearly need to read this!

First of all, to really understand the concept of nationalities in Russia, you need to know that there are 2 words for Russian, россиский which is used to speak about the citizenship and the government, and русский which is used to speak about ethnic Russians. In Russia, there is a difference between your citizenship and your nationality. A Russian citizen can be Tatar, Ouïgur, Bashkir, Mari, Osset or even Ukrainian, Polish or German (Those Germans are prior to the Soviet Union).

Now let’s start from the beginning because it can get quite complicated. Not just because there are so many of them, but also because… of Soviet Union, them again! I won’t explain all the ideologies that were behind the construction of “The New Soviet Man”, because it’s complicated and… I’m not sure to really understand it. What I know, is that Soviets were very big fans of paperwork. They methodically studied all the cultures present in Soviet Union at that time and gave a writing system to those without. First in the Latin alphabet, in Cyrillic, they had to be able to read Russian. Under Stalin, the politic regarding minorities changed quite a bit with a (sometimes forced) Russification of the population. It reflected the centralized government that he established it’s quite unexpected since he is Georgian. With world war two he organized the deportation of millions of people

Russia is a Federation, which means it’s composed of different regions with a certain degree of independence. it is composed of republics with their own constitutions, oblast and kraï (something like “region” or “department”) and one autonomous oblast, namely the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, on the border with China (Because why not ?). Every one of these republics and regions has their own history and sometimes it’s all language(s). If you ever go for a road trip in Russia (who knows), you will encounter a very big variety of cultures and customs as well as languages, even if (usually) everyone speaks Russian. Listing them would be quite boring so I’ll just tell you about some of them where I actually went, so I know a bit what I’m talking about.

Tatarstan, Where people speak Tatar (don’t worry, they also speak Russian and if you are lucky English). Tatars are a Turco-Mongol people that arrived with the Mongol expansion. First United into the Golden Horde, they then divide into different khanate that was all absorbed by the growing Russian empire. The Kazan Khanate was located in what is now the Republic of Tatarstan. Kazan, the capital of the Republic, has it’s own Kremlin and is one of the biggest city in Russia. Tatars are Muslims and you can see a very beautiful mosque in the capital.

Another interesting place to visit in Russia is the Republic of Buryatia. Landscapes there are breathtaking, you can admire the Baïkal lake, the deepest lake in the world (more than 1600m !!!!) and also one of the purest water in the world. This lake is considered by the local population as a sacred sea. Talking about the local population (I’m proud of this transition), Buryatia is the home of Byriats (nothing extraordinary yet). Buriats are a semi-nomadic people related to the Mongols, they share with them many similarities in terms of culture, languages (except that they write in cirylic, Mongols have their own script) and religion. There are two main religions in Buryatia (except from orthodoxy brought by Russian settlers) Tibetan Buddhism and Tengrism, this last one is a shamanic religion that was quite famous before mainly because of someone called Genghis Khan.