Buryatiya, Republic of

Buryatiya, Republic of
   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Modern Buryatiya once comprised part of the larger Buryat-Mongolian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1937, several districts were excluded from the region, and reformed as the Aga district in Chita (now Zabaykalsky Krai) and the Ust-Orda in Irkutsk; however, while these units were established as Buryat autonomous okrugs, they lacked contiguity with Buryatiya.
   Contemporary Buryatiya covers 351,300 square kilometers of the part of southern Siberia known as Trans-Baykal (Zabaikal’e). It is part of the Siberian Federal District and the East Siberian Economic Region. Much of western Buryatiya sits on Lake Baykal. In addition to neighboring Irkutsk and Zabaykalsky, the republic shares a significant international border with Mongolia, as well as a short internal border with Tuva. Buryatiya’s former territories of Ust-Orda and Aga are encapsulated by its western and eastern neighbors, Irkutsk and Zabaykalsky Krai, respectively.
   Along with a dozen other republics, Buryatiya declared its sovereignty in 1990, and has been granted high levels of autonomy in postindependence Russia. With a population of nearly 1 million, ethnic Russians represent a majority (68 percent) of the population. The titular minority, the Buryats, account for about 30 percent of the population; the remainder is comprised of nearly a hundred other nationalities. The main faiths of the republic are Russian Orthodoxy, Buddhism, and shamanism.
   The region’s economy is dependent on agricultural and commercial products including wheat, timber, furs, and textiles; industrial sectors include aircraft manufacture, shipbuilding, and machinery. The region possesses extensive, though underexploited, mineral reserves including half of Russia’s lead-zinc ores. Baykal, the deepest freshwater lake in the world, is an important tourism destination. Sitting on the Trans-Siberian rail line, the capital, Ulan-Ude (pop. 360,000), is a historic trading center that has long connected Russia to Mongolia and China.
   The National Khural of the Buryat Republic is the republic’s representative and legislative body; the parliament has steadfastly resisted efforts by political elites to rescind the requirement that the republican president speak both Buryat and the Russian language. Leonid Potapov, an ethnic Russian and former railway engineer, and part of the late Soviet nomenklatura>, has served as the president of the republic since 1994. Formerly the chairman of Buryatiya’s Supreme Soviet, Potapov was popularly elected three times, commanding 68 percent of the vote in the most recent election in 2002. During the 1998 election, he ordered troops to crush an uprising by Buddhist monks who were advocating greater influence of Buryat culture in the republic, a move that significantly diminished his popularity. He won the hotly contested election because his main competitor dropped out and endorsed him a few days before the election. Potapov abandoned the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in 2002, soon gaining the backing of the pro-Kremlin United Russia. Potapov has proposed the creation of a greater Baykal region that would include Buryatiya, Irkutsk, Zabaykalsky Krai, and the two formerly autonomous Buryat districts (Ust-Orda and Aga), effectively re-creating the old Buryat-Mongol Republic that was abolished by Joseph Stalin in an effort to weaken pan-Mongolism. During his tenure, Potapov has also worked to abolish tariffs on trade with Mongolia and China.
   In 2007, Vladimir Putin nominated Vyacheslav Nagovitsyn, the former vice governor of Tomsk’s regional administration, as the president of the republic. An ethnic Russian who had never been to the republic before taking it over, Nagovitsyn declared that knowledge of the Buryat language was a necessary qualification for the presidency and hired a Buryat tutor immediately after coming into office (the language requirement had been waived prior to his appointment).

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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