Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Reviews

                                             Book Reviews

 1) Tichotsky, John, Russia’s Diamond Colony: The Republic of Sakha, Amsterdam: Harwood Academy Publishers, 2000.

 John Tichotsky’s, Russia's Diamond Colony: The Republic of Sakha is a well written work of the economic history of the Republic of Sakha since the days of Tsarist occupation to the last decades of the twentieth century. Even though Sakha's economy is the main theme of this work, it also covers other aspects of the Sakha story such as its history, geography and demography. Tichotsky's, Russia’s Diamond Colony is one of the rarest works which is written in English about the Sakha Republic. Russia’s Diamond Colony discusses in quite detail about gold, diamond and petroleum industries of the Sakha Republic. Tichotsky shows, how federal government used the natural resources of the Sakha Republic for its own advantage. Russia’s Diamond Colony discusses about the potential markets for the Sakha’s natural resources and  major threats faced by the Sakha’s mining industries. Tichotsky also tried to find reasons behind the economic backwardness of this resource rich region.

Russia’s Diamond Colony invites readers’ attention to the rough and hostile terrain of the Sakha Republic. A significant portion of the Sakha Republic lies inside the Arctic Circle. It makes some parts of the Sakha Republic are the coldest settled area of the world. Sakha Republic is also the biggest republic of the Russian Federation and it is also the biggest sub national unity of any countries of the World. Sakha Republic literally has all elements of the periodic table and is one of the biggest producers of rough diamond (around one third of the world and 99 percentage of the Russia’s production). Sakha Republic also has significant natural gas deposits. However, Sakha Republic is still remained as one of the backward regions of the Russian Federation. Sakha Republic’s population density is still low and further challenged by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Tichotsky accuses Moscow for using Sakha as a colony for raw materials. At the same time the Russia’s Diamond Colony shows Sakha authorities better command over its resources and economy than under the Soviet Union.

The modern history of Sakha Republic began with the establishment of Yakutsk in 17th century by the Russian Cossacks. Before the advent of Russians, the territory of Sakha Republic was already occupied by the Sakha people (Yakuts). Sakha people were regarded as the descendants of the nomadic Central Asians who primarily raised horses. Sakha people appeared in this part of the world in and around 12th to 15th century. Sakha people already pushed the indigenous people of the Siberia such as Evenki, Even and Yukagir into the further north. Sakha people remained as the people of grasslands and indigenous people continued as hunters and reindeer herders. As Tichotsky points, the Russian settlers used Sakha Republic primarily as a tax collecting region (tax in the form of fur). The second part of the 19th century witnessed the arrival of gold prospectors into the region in search of gold. Still Russian population remained low primarily in the urban centers of the Sakha Republic.

However, the Soviet period witnessed major changes in the socio – economic life of the Sakha Republic. Soviets established Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (YASSR). Stalin period also witnessed the collectivization and settlement of Sakha people and indigenous reindeer herders of the north. The collectivization of Sakha Republic took long time in comparison with other parts of the USSR. Tichotsky argues that the remoteness, large size and sparse population of the republic played a major role in this outcome. But major changes happened to the Sakha Republic in the field of industries primarily mining. Stalin promoted large scale of gold mining in the North Eastern part of the Republic. Soviet state tried to bring gold production under the government control instead of private gold prospectors. Tichotsky points towards the Communist state’s compromise with the private prospectors. Even though Sakha gold helped the Soviet state’s economy but it never brought any significant prosperity to the Sakha Republic. Krushchev period witnessed another major mineral invention in the South Western part of the Sakha Republic, diamond.

Russia’s Diamond Colony describes the importance of diamond in the economy of Sakha Republic. According to Tichotsky Sakha diamond made Russia a major player in the world diamond market. Tichotsky also shows how did Soviet government secretly traded with the South African diamond cartel, De Beer without any attention from the West. Russia remained as a trusted partner of De Beer in the entire Soviet period. But this equation changed under the new Russian Federation. The general uncertainty of the post – Soviet period negatively influenced the diamond trade too. The government of Sakha under Mikhail Nikolaev claimed more control over the natural resources of the region especially diamond. Like other republics of the Russian Federation, Sakha Republic also witnessed strong sovereignty movements during this time. Russian federal government was not in a position to control these threats, but Russian President, Boris Yeltsin was able to pacify the sovereignty movements with the help of the Sakha President, Nikolaev. Tichotsky rightly observes that the unique relationship between the federal and the republican governments under Yeltsin :

Sakha today is a hybrid between a Sovnarkhoz, and an American state in its relationship with the federal government. Sovereignty of American states and states rights are usually associated with populist rights against the elitism of the federal government. Sakha’s sovereignty, unlike that of American states, is not a populist sovereignty. Sakha’s sovereignty can be better compared to an exclusive territory granted by Russia’s President Yeltsin to a loyal ally, Sakha’s President Nikolaev (p.58).

Whatever it is Sakha Republic was more economically stable than the other republics of the Russian Federation due to its diamond wealth. Diamond also helped the republican government in bargain with the federal government. The final chapters of the Russia’s Diamond Colony discusses about the privatization in Russia in general and Sakha in particular. In this part, Tichotsky makes a serious observation that, in contrast to the West, in Russia, government still controls all profitable industries. So mining industries of Sakha is still under the government control. Tichotsky points that it discourages the foreign investors to invest in Sakha Republic. In agriculture sector only cattle were privatized and horses and reindeer are not fully privatized. Tichotsky also points towards the colonial attitude of the empowered Sakha people towards the indigenous people of the North. Tichotsky justifies his stand with the support of a popular saying that: “the middle brother (Sakha) is worse than the older brother (Russian).” Tichotsky found only other industry which can challenge diamond industry is the oil and natural gas industry. But again lack of privatization in this field also troubles the development of it to its maximum potential. Tichotsky opines that the Eastern Asia is going to be the major beneficiaries of the further expansion of oil and gas industry in the Sakha Republic. Sakha – Japan or Sakha – Korea pipeline may completely change the economy of this part of Russia.

Tichotsky makes lots of valid observation in his book, Russia’s Diamond Colony. For example, he finds that the lack of privatization is the major weakness of the Sakha industry. Underdeveloped nature of infrastructure is another weakness. But at the same time, Tichotsky appreciates Sakha government for its effort to gain a partial control over the republic’s industries. Tichotsky also warns both the republican and the federal governments about the closed nature of their economy. Tichotsky argues that the closed economy never improves the life of the common masses. Tichotsky suggests the Sakha government to utilize its diamond revenue for the improvement of the life of the citizens.

Tichotsky did a wonderful job with this largely unexploited topic. Russia’s Diamond Colony is quite comprehensive with detailed charts and diagrams. Book also has detailed appendixes too. Tichotsky’s Russian background helps him to make wonderful observations. But I feel that the recent developments under Vladimir Putin can only makes this study complete.

2 ) Jordan Bella Bychkova & Terry G. Jordan – Bychkov, Siberian Village: Land and Life in the Sakha Republic, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Terry Jordan’s Siberian Village is a study of village named Djarkhan, which is located in the Central Yakut Plain of the Sakha Republic. The author linked to the village through his wife, Bella Bychkova Jordan, an ethnic Sakha from Djarkhan. The study conducted in the middle of the 1990s when Russia was passing through a difficult time. Readers can see the reverberations of those difficulties in this work. Through Siberian Village, Terry Jordan tries to say the story of Sakha Republic in general and the village life of the Sakha people in particular. Sakha people (Yakuts) are the single largest ethnic group of the Sakha Republic. Sakha Republic also has significant Russian minority. Besides these two major groups, the northern part of the Sakha Republic is also home for ethnic groups such as Even, Evenki, Chukchi and Yukagir.

The chapter 1 of the Siberian Village gives a general introduction to the history of Sakha Republic. Here, Jordan tries to remind readers about the unique nature of Siberian lands. Russians and other non – native people find Siberia is always as a land of snow and myth. Or, in other words, a land which is exotic and foreign to them. But for natives of Siberia, their land is not at all exotic or peripheral but central to their life. Natives of Siberia find meanings to all aspects of Siberian life. The Chapter discusses the history of Sakha Republic and its various Ethnic groups. The chapter also gives an insight into the economy and political life of Sakha Republic. In this chapter, Terry Jordan reminds readers that how modern Sakha Republic is by showing the cultural life of Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic.

The Chapter 2 discusses primarily about the village called Djarkhan. Jordan describes about the major geographical features of the village such as alases (grasslands), taiga (forest), soil and settlements. The chapter also covers the various seasons of the Djarkhand and it shows how harsh is the climate of the Sakha Republic. Through this chapter, Jordan also introduces us into the ordinary life people of the village. The chapter 3 discusses the traditional life of the Sakha people. It also discusses in short about the history of Sakha people until the Soviet time. According to Terry, Sakha people believe that their origin was further south in the steppe lands. The importances for horse in Sakha life justify this notion. Then Sakha people were defeated by Buriats and it forced them to move to further north. Sakha people established themselves in the Central Yakut Plain at the expense of the Indigenous people such as Evenki. Russians followed Sakha people into the same land with their very different lifestyle and material culture. The chapter discusses about the traditional clan systems existed among the Sakha people (Sakha clans were known as aga – usa). In the traditional Sakha life, there were no villages or permanent settlements. Sakha was semi – nomadic like their Central Asian ancestors. They were a kind of Christians with very predominant Shamanic beliefs. Again Terry finds many of the Sakha people converted to Christianity for getting exemption from taxes and fur – tributes.

The Chapter 4 tells the story of Soviet period. Soviet period witnessed the collectivization and formation of various permanent Sakha villages such as Djarkhan. According to Terry most of the Sakha people found Communism and ‘Sovietization’ as another Russian experiment just as Christianity in the earlier centuries. The Soviet period completely changed the Sakha way of life. Now onwards cattle started to predominate in the life of the Sakha people instead of horses. Soviets also introduced modern agricultural techniques into the Sakha Republic and village such as Djarkhan witnessed large scale improvements in their life. Jordan describes the period between 1966 – 1991 as ‘golden age’ for the Djarkhan village. The Soviet period converted Sakha people from herders to modern farmers. Still Communism could not able to destroy the Sakha identity which is primarily based on the Sakha language and traditions.

The post – Soviet period witnessed the collapse of the economy in Djarkhan just like other parts of the Russian Federation. The Soviet collapse hit commercial farming quite badly. State farms were dissolved and ownership of animals turned into private. The commercial farming gave way to the subsistence farming. The living standard of the majority of the Sakha people came down just like other citizens of the Soviet Union. But, still few of them prospered. This general decline led to the revival of indigenous traditions which was suppressed under the Communist rule. But Jordan did not see any complete return of Djarkhan villagers to their pre- revolutionary life. But their Sakha identity is getting more recognition and respect in the post – Soviet period. Jordan also concerns about the vulnerability of Sakha villages such as Djarkhan with its low population and migration of young people. Sakha villages are the reservoir of Sakha culture and identity. In contrast, the city spaces of Sakha Republic such as Yakutsk and Mirny regarded as Rusian places. So Jordan encourages Sakha government to support Sakha villages to preserve their culture and through that the cultural identity of the Sakha people.

Jordan’s Siberian Village is really well written work with lots of photographs and maps. It gives readers clear idea about the life of a modern Siberian village. We may surprise how modern their life is. But Jordan discusses little about inter – ethnic relations of the Sakha Republic. I think that is quite important for the better understanding.   


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