Siberiaki - Orientation

Identification. Siberiaki live in pockets throughout Siberia and the Russian Far East. They are primarily families of Slavic, especially Russian, background who settled in Siberia before the Russian Revolution of 1917 or before World War II and who adopted Siberia as their homeland. A more inclusive perspective, popular among Siberian regionalists, is that Siberiaki are those who were born in Siberia or who accept Siberia as a homeland. They differentiate themselves from newer settlers ( novoseltsy ) whose loyalty to Siberia is less well established. Siberiaki are considered, by outsiders and by themselves, to have adapted to Siberian conditions and acquired a special syncretic esprit de corps that includes aspects of traditional Siberian native culture. Many Siberiak families have intermarried with natives of different Siberian regions, thus creating local variations of Siberiak culture. The term "Siberiaki" is sometimes used derogatorily by more recently urbanized Slavic newcomers to Siberia, but it is also used by Siberiaki themselves to mark and acknowledge their differences from Russians of the Russian heartland.

Location. Siberia and the Far East extend from the Ural Mountains east to the Pacific Ocean and as far north as the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. The territory is within the former Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). It borders on European Russia to the west, Kazakhstan to the south and China and Mongolia to the east, stretching approximately from 50° to 80° N and 60° to 175° E. It includes the low rolling Ural Mountains and the high, snowcapped Altai peaks. East of the Altai range is Baikal, one of the world's deepest and largest (33,800 square kilometers) inland lakes. Most of southern and central Siberia is steppe, forest, and taiga, where agriculture is eked out in a short summer season. Along such grand rivers as the Ob, Yenisei, Lena, and Indigirka, forests reach to the Arctic Circle. But much of the north is tundra, where reindeer moss and lichen grow, along with a few stunted firs on permafrosted land. It comes alive with flowers only in the hot summers when temperatures soar to +30° C. Harsh winters punctuated by violent snow storms last from September through May with temperatures dipping as low as —79° C. Most of the northern winter, although cold (with temperatures hovering between —10° and —30° C), is more tolerable since it is drier and less windy.

Demography. The 1989 Soviet census indicated a Russian Republic population of 147,386,000, of which 119,807,165 were Russians. Siberia and the Far East have an overall population of 5,800,000, with the Slavic population approximately 4,000,000. Given that "Siberiak" is not a census category, it is difficult to estimate how many consider themselves Siberiaki. If "Siberiaki" is defined as having pre-Revolutionary ancestry, the population has declined substantially in the Soviet period, through emigration, urbanization, and assimilation with other groups. These old-style Siberiaki tend to live in rural areas. Urban Slavic populations of Siberia have more than doubled in the last twenty years. Once urbanized, traditional Siberiaki down-played their roots, until the 1980s, when some rediscovered pride in their backgrounds. Others consider themselves Siberiaki even without the patrimony. This illustrates the dynamic, changing nature of ethnic identity.

Linguistic Affiliation. Although most Siberiaki speak Russian, some speak Ukrainian or Belarussian. These are East Slavic (Slavonic) languages in the Slavic Branch of Indo-European. Even for most Siberiaki of Ukrainian or Belarussian background Russian is the lingua franca, except in regions such as the Amur area, where Ukrainian settlers historically predominated. Local dialects evolved through mixtures with Siberian languages of both the Uralic and Altaic Language Families. A few groups of Siberiaki are known to have adopted local languages extensively, especially in the Far North. There are numerous discrepancies between spoken local dialects and the written Russian language.

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