We are glad to offer our readers complete text of interview with Syres’ Boliayen’, Inyazor (chief elder) of Erzya people, undertaken by Erzyan Mastor newspaper. The brief variant of conversation can be read in issue №552 (August 28, 2019).
As you may know, Syres’ Boliayen’ (Alexandr Bolkin by passport) was elected Inyazor at Rasken’ Ozks (Ancestral Prayer) that took place at June 13, 2019 near village of Chukaly in Bolsheignatovskiy district. He was born in village of Papulevo in Ichalkovskiy district and spent his youth in Bolsheignatovskiy district. He has been living in Ukraine for forty years already and fought for the country. As he says himself, “For Ukraine”. His election as people’s Inyazor caused ambiguous reactions among erzuans and still remains a controversial issue: how is it that an “outsider” can be elected Inyazor at Rasken’ Ozks?
Our Erzyan readers as well as editorial members wanted to know more about ideas and plans of this man. We sent a list of question to him and here that he answered.
— We wish you health, Syres’ Boliayen’, Inyazor of Erzya people!
— Best of health to all Erzyans! Thank you for your questions!
— Tell us about yourself. How did you end up in Kyiv?
— Every empire aspires to break internal borders, borders between people and their cultures. Ebery empire hankers standardization, because people’s identity and consciousness are grain out of which a dream about their own state system can grow. Russian empire and Soviet Union were no exeptions too. They actively transferred people from one territories to others, tried at any cost to destroy cultural connections within national and religious groups. Although Soviet Union claimed that the aim of this policy is forming of new type of human being – “homo soveticus” or soviet man, actually we have very clear understanding, that such policy was continuation of old imperial narrative to transform everybody who lives in USSR into Russians. In fact soviet so-called internationalism was based first of all on Russian language and Russian culture which had to be foundation for “friendship of nations”. Men and women were sent to work, to build factories or serve in military thousands of kilometres away from native lands, where they were isolated from language environment, deprived of possibilities to keep and develop their cultures. Here, say, sent an Udmurt to work in Institute of Metal Physics in Kyiv in these times. Did he really have all opportunities to preserve his Udmurt identity in a city, where are no Udmurt kindergardens, no Udmurt-speaking schools, nowhere to find a single book in Udmurt language, even a simple primer? Other alternative was offered to such man, namely to be a transmitter of Russian culture, language and identity. That’s how people assisted Russification of others, undermined borders between countries, nations and cultures, melting it all in large Russian pot.
This policy affected me personally and my family too. After graduation from military school I was sent to Ukraine. When Soviet Union began to disintegrate, I was in Kyiv, and had something of a dilemma here, to stay in Kyiv or return to Saransk. Me and my wife Vera had three little kids at the moment, so return was quite a hard option. I graduated with honors from my military school and that’s why I was offered to remain here, in Institute of Air Forces. So we started our life in Ukraine.
— Looking ahead, in your opinion, how can we farther keep our language, culture? How to develop them? Do you have some program or plan?
— That’s a good question! In terms of preservation and development, of cource. But how can it be achieved without reanimation?
We Erzya lack of critical self-esteem. Honest self-esteem, not based on “you fool” principle! Sometimes an extraneous self-perspective will not do us any harm. What do I mean? Before talking about plans and future let’s honestly give answers on following questions. How Republic of Mordovia and Erzya people changed in last 30 years? We need objective estimation of demographic situation as well as state of Erzyan language and culture. What’s left of Mordovia’s sovereignty? What is the reason behind this catastrophe? Only honest self-estimation will enable us to make plans for future. Otherwise we are doomed to construct new “sand castles”, just endless conversations about friendship of nations, equality, how Erzyan culture flourishes and so on. Such idle talks we hear from officials Republic of Mordovia for decades already, while Erzya don’t have even a single Erzyan gymnasium.
I’m often being accused of having Ukrainian citizenship and not living in Erzyan to date. Yes, really at this very moment I can not return to Motherland. However it doesn’t mean that I can’t see and don’t understand situation faced by my Erzya people. Let me give you an example, not just talking about abstract things. Our situation in Russian Federation is much worse than situation of Hungarians in Ukraine. Hungarians in Zakarpattia have their own schools, colleges and institutes, newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations. Hungarian political parties work here openly, with political campaigning, advertisements in Hungarian, banners, leaflets and so on. I have a question – why we Erzya do not have all this in Russia? They say that Hungarians have their own state, Hungary, and it cares about them. But wait a moment! Does it mean that Russian Federation is inherently alien state for Erzyans? Does it mean that it can’t be Motherland for Erzya, can’t provide the same conditions which Hungary provides for Hungarians? Maybe I’ve got something wrong? Aren’t we strangers in Russia? So what’s the problem? Why all these rights are inavialable for Erzya?
Russian authorities actively promotes hypocritical idea that “it’s their own fault” that Erzyan language and culture surrender their positions. It is often said something like: nobody forbids you to use Erzyan language at home, in the kitchen; everything depends on parents, because if they do not teach their children Erzyan language, then it disappears. Such “kitchen limitations” are obviously manipulative and discriminative. If Russian Federation is the state not only for Russian nation but also for all nations and ethnic groups living here, then authorities are under obligation to create all conditions for development and preservation of our cultures. Exactly to create such conditions, but not just to repeat that whole cultures disappear, because “it’s parents’ fault”. Yes, world becomes global, it is getting more and more heavier to keep identity of stateless nations. However look here, what conditions are provided for stateless nations by civilized states. In Spain Catalan and Basque languages and cultures at a level that Erzya can only dream of. These countries are monarchies with kings and Russian Federation is still federation with president, not a monarch (at least formally). Even in Great Britain (they also have a queen here) government successfully rescue languages, including those with 50-60 active speakers left. Maybe the most known example is Man language. There is special gymnasium on the Isle of Man where subjects are taught in local Man language. UK creates motivational system in order to explain parents and students how to revive Man language. Bodies of local self-government are encouraged to conduct at least some meetings in Man language. We can only imagine that someone will raise a question: “Why don’t members of Government of Republic of Mordovia conduct their meetings in Erzyan language”?
Thus, how could we, in our current situation with clear understanding that Russian Federation will not treat Erzya in the same light as Britain treats Isle of Man inhabitants, still keep and develop Erzyan language and culture?
1) Creating modern content in Erzyan language: books, websites, audio books, videos and others like that. Produce as many information as possible in Erzyan language and upload it into Internet. It is nessesary for future development, when Erzyan’ Mastor will be in more favourable situation for revival of our identity, so we must have some base to build on.
2) Demanding from federal and republican authorities to fulfill obligations imposed on them by constitutions of Russian Federation and Republic of Mordovia; creation of complete educational cycle in Erzyan language, from children in kindergarden to university students.
3) Struggle for real status of Erzyan as official language in Mordovia, not just language of greeting speeches at folklore festivals. Russian language can be used along with Erzyan, but not instead of the latter as it happens now. Our young people will be motivated to study Erzyan only if everybody will know that Erzyan language is required for successful career.
— What tasks would you formulate for Inyekuzho, which will be held soon?
— Did you just named seventh “mordovian convention” as Inyekuzho?
Ten years have passed since fifth Inyekuzho, five years have passed since sixth one. I’m well acquainted with resolutions of these conventions. These are conventions! They basically are the same as conventions of Soviet Communist party! Made for making a good picture about happy life of Erzyans and Mokshans. “Look here, people get together, participate, authorities are interested”.
And what has been the outcome? First part of every resolution underlines, how happy and prosperous Erza and Moksha live in Mordovia, how much officials strive for their well-being. Second half usually tells us how delegates plan to improve life of ordinary people. There is a question: what has to be improves if “everything is good”? Why any of these resolutions does not contain report section, telling about what it is exactly achieved since previous convention? That’s because we can read here just platitudes like: to ask… to recommend… to activate… to promote… to improve… and so on.
Do we much of that improvement? Erzyan language is taught one academic hour per week. Optionally!
Such conventions must build dialog with authorities in order to communicate about our problems. Where is at least one Erzyan gymnasium in Saransk? Where is at least one Erzyan university? Why there are no monuments of Purgaz in the capital of Republic of Mordovia? If conventions don’t resolve these questions, then what’s the point of their existence?
Why head of administrations as well as other officials do not speak Erzyan or Mokshan in workplaces? They just don’t have a desire to do that? But it is disrespect to our people, it is scornful behavior. Are they mindless people? How do they do their jobs then?
My hypothetical advices for “mordovian” convention will be simple: stop lying to yourselves and to your people. Things are bad, both for Mokshans and Erzyans.
It is enough to beg! Our right is to demand! It is necessary to force officials, not to ask them. Because their work is paid from budget, which is filled by our taxes.
If they afraid to communacate with their superiors and treat [acting Head of the Republic of Mordovia Vladimir] Volkov as some kind of diety or sacred being (as buddhists treat cows), then let them achieve little, but real results. Let at least something to be done! For example, audio album of Erzyan fairy-tales or translation of popular world children writers in Erzyan. There is an enormous amount of issues where efforts should best be directed! The only thing is, that it’s is beneficial to someone just to talk that Erzyans already don’t have any unmet needs; they say “How many of these Erzya are still there? Their numbers are less and less every year”. Mordovian officials are able to cry sincerely on funeral of last Erzyans, but do not have any desire to open an Erzyan gymnasium. Let us not play along with such behaviour!
— Nowadays you live far from Motherland. Do you understand how difficult is to work with Erzyan matters?
— Yes, I do live far from Erzyan, but exactly this circumstance allows me to talk about such things, what Erzya in Russian Federation can not openly express. I realize very well how difficult it is to work in this position, because our team is working already.
What exactly done by me and by Erzyan diaspore in Ukraine in last few years?
- We published a book entitled Sedeise Tarka by Erzyan poet Dmitriy Taganov, as well as collection of poems by 24 Erzyan poets, named Erzyan Valske, 1200 copies of each edition. We distribute them free of charge in Erzya established communities.
- Thanks to the efforts of Erźań Val society, which I head up, we selebrated Day of Erzyan language in Kyiv seven times now. These were literary readings involving Erzyans from all Ukraine and also guests from Russian Federation. Few hundreds of people participated in our events.
- I recorded 40 Erzyan songs and declamations. Some of them – for example, Kalmaz’ Letsnema verse – were recorded in a professional studio. Lot of these songs were composed with authorial music, such as Timon’ Veranen’. Tundo, Vergiz Moro, Chire Yutkso, Peidema Nurkamorot and so on.
- Whole cycle of educational videos was recorded in Erzyan language with subtitles in different European languages, for example, Tiushtian’ Pshkadema. These videos tell about our Erzyan culture and traditions.
- We also produced an entire series of podcasts, where I speak in Erzyan language about important trends in international policy. For the first time news in Erzyan language were released about world economic tendencies, military conflict in Syria and Iraq, crisis in Venezuela, global warming and scientific discoveries in astronomy.
- For my own money together with Erzyans from Russian Federation we recorded audioversions of some works by Alexander Tikshikin from his book named Urozket’.
What are our future plans? This year we are going to present our site aimed to popularization of Erzyan language. This will be a web-resource, where Erzyan-language e-books, audiobooks, videos and other useful content will be avialable.
Within Forgotten Voices project we are going to record audiobook with works of Boris Istlyaev.
Is that a lot or a little? Very little! I hope however, that with the help of concerned Erzyans we can achieve more!
— Russia and Ukraine are – let’s say it in diplomatic manner – not friends now. Maybe Ukrainian authorities simply try to use you with one aim, namely disintegration of Russia?
— It is very ood question! If it is really so, then how do you think, why exactly does Ukraine try to “spoil” Russia? And yes, it’s quite a rhetoric question.
I had already talked and wrote on that matter. Our national project won’t work, if we are going to lie to ourselves. In the next month in Kyiv I will take the oath of loyalty to Erzyan people. But already now I can look into the eyes of any Erzya and franky say, that I will never play around, looking for soft answers for hard questions. I consider that it is Inyazor’s obligation.
Russia doesn’t have friendly relations with many other states, not only Ukraine. Lithuania, for example. But taking away your neighbour’s territories isn’t just unfriendly, it is called military aggression. Yes, it is quite usual state for Russian army to occupy something outside Russia, claiming that “we are not here” and simultaneously to be proud of military achievements. Ukrainians are essentially not an imperialistic nation, that’s why it is much easier to find common ground with them than with Russians suffering from phantom pains of “lost territories”.
Yes, I fought for Ukraine. Yes, I am proud of that I am a lieutenant colonel in Army of Ukraine. I protected Ukrainian state on it’s own territories, I did not occupy police stations in Voronezh, I did not take Russian churches in Tambov. I never did anything of that in Russia, and the same cannot be said about “rebel leader” Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, who is Russian which arrived from Moscow for military occupation of Ukrainian territory.
I am proud of my service in Ukrainian Army, because I know that Ukrainians fight on their lands and do not violate borders of other states. I think that I deserve to present my Erzyan people before Ukrainians and other nations. Looking on me, nobody can say that Erzya are cowards, or they are not brave, or not strong, or passive.
Does Ukraine use me? For all the time that I live in Ukraine neither SSU operatives nor other officials asked me to make some oral or written statement, to call someone, to write something or to go somewhere. That’s also one of those great things in Ukraine, it’s really free country. By the way, I publicly criticized and still criticizing President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Now please ask yourself: how much Erzyans can publicly criticize Putin, Volkov? Khumantsian’ Pirguzh was summoned to Mordovian minister of culture only because minister was unhappy that I was chosen new Inyazor.
— “To be an Inyazor”! What senses and values do these words and this position have for you personally?
— To be an Inyazor is to live a life of your people, to be ill with their illnesses, to lose sleep over their problems, to think how to change their life for the better, to make decisions and to implement them. My mission as Inyazor is to explain Erzyans that we are separate nation which has its own interests, and they are often different from interests of Volkov, Putin or even interests of Russian Federation. We must form our own perspective to the world. If we want to find a place in the world then we need to look here in Erzyan manner.
— Thank you for your answers!
— Thank you for questions. Glory to Erzyan people!