Foreword Caroline Humphrey Deportation Trauma of the Kalmyks
It is well known that the entire Kalmyk people was deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan during the Second World War. Large numbers of people perished in the harshest of conditions, and the survivors were only able to return to their homeland in 1956. Yet until the appearance of this book, no adequate account of this tragic episode has been published. And this is not just an "account" - it provides a wide-ranging and thoughtful anthropological analysis, not just of the events but also of how we can understand the sharply varied attitudes that Kalmyks have subsequently taken to this rupture in their history.
This is a uniquely important book from several different points of view. Firstly, it is the first full study of the deportation by a Kalmyk author and it thus contains insights that simply could not be attained by a writer from outside the Kalmyk culture. Secondly, this book concerns a matter of great political sensitivity to the present day, the relation between the Kalmyks and the federal state of Russia, and thus it addresses issues that are rarely tackled by native anthropologists. And thirdly, this book is a notable contribution to the discipline of socio-cultural anthropology, in particular to the field of trauma, memory and forgetting. Guchinova?s study is at once brave, balanced and eloquent, and it deserves to be read by very widely indeed.
One major achievement of this book concerns the questions raised by historical documentation - a theme that is by no means simple, given the confusing statistical evidence, the contradictory attitudes and continuing silence on this subject. What is made evident is that even the apparently most empirical data, for example the numbers of people involved, is subject to the situated positions taken by those providing data. Some Kalmyks joined the "Korpus" that fought against the Soviets, some Kalmyks emigrated with the Germans, many more Kalmyks fought with the Red Army, and yet all of these seemingly transparent numbers of people are shrouded in the colourings of expediency and offended memory, so that even the most basic categories are questionable. What does "anti-Soviet sabotage" mean, for example, when many people at the time were faced with either stealing cattle or starvation for their families? And what is "collaboration" when a village, depleted of men of fighting age, is invaded by a massively armed regiment of Nazis? What is the meaning of the vow of loyalty taken by soldiers conscripted into the army of an oppressive regime? Guchinova does not shrink from asking these agonising questions, despite the fact that she was many times asked to desist by elders who preferred to draw a curtain over events they still see as shameful to the history of their people. Guchinova persisted in trying to trace the diverse trails that led from the episode of the ?Korpus?. She shows how one of its leaders, now living in America, justifies his actions in a long account, which as she rightly observes has become something of an "official legend" through frequent retelling. She describes how attitudes to collaboration have changed over time among the Kalmyks of Russia, and how those distant events have continued to reverberate in inter-ethnic relations throughout Soviet times into the present. The last trial of a Kalmyk for collaboration was in 1989, but even in the 1960s the risk that such highly-public trials would give rise to violence against the entire Kalmyk people was understood by the KGB. Kalmyk operatives of the KGB sought out and deliberately put Russians on trial at the same time, to demonstrate that collaboration was an international phenomenon. Into this highly charged arena of blame and accusations of bad faith was mixed the still salient issue of return of land lost by the Kalmyks during exile. The charge that harmful false rumours ("the Kalmyks are cannibals") had been deliberately spread about them among the Siberians in order to make their exile all the more isolated and punitive is not forgotten even today. What Guchinovas book succeeds in showing so remarkably is how the concerns of succeeding generations have inflected what they feel able to say about the past. It is not surprising that the main strategy was, and to a large extent still remains, silence.
Yet the "silence" has never been absolute, and it is in this aspect of the book that Guchinova makes her most interesting contribution to anthropology. She raises, for example, the issue of "bodily memory"- This persists in traces that people find difficult to put into words, such as the shocks to the physical system of the beast-like conditions of the cattle-wagons during the journey, the gradual adaptation to unfamiliar ?crisis foods? in Siberia, and the startled senses of those returning to the homeland with its dryness, heat and glaring light. Guchinova also asks whether there was something culturally Kalmyk about the ways loss was experienced and expressed. It seems that the nomadic herding tradition, the "nomadic" aspect of which had long since been abandoned, did not make the journeys of exile any the easier, but nevertheless people euphemistically called the deportation in Russian perekochevka (nomadic move). People who had lived surrounded by their livestock felt terrible anxiety on abandoning the animals they had cared for. In exile, many had to overcome specific cultural prohibitions, such as the taboo on eating carrion meat. One Kalmyk tradition, that of song, afforded the beginning of a return to being able to express feelings. Yet Guchinova records how even here certain ideas were not sayable in Kalmyk, but only in Russian. So a "Kalmyk song" might include the "language of repression", where words such as "cattle- wagon", "order", or "Soviets" would occur in Russian, while the words for emotions (pain, fear, insult) would be in Kalmyk. In analysing later oral reminiscences Guchinova notes the prevalence of subjectless verbal forms and passive grammatical constructions, both of which are characteristic of languages of the Mongolian group but also were used in this case to emphasise the tellers? feeling that the experience was one of collective repression. In another section Guchinova contrasts memory with written history, and she notes the tone of momentous tragedy assumed by the latter. Memories, on the other hand, are frequently interwoven with humour and irony.
Besides its attentiveness to language, another important contribution of the book is its concern with gender, kinship and Kalmyk social structures. And further significant chapters deal with the deportees? efforts to survive and furthermore to prove themselves worthy citizens by hard work and striving for education. The general goal of the Kalmyks in deportation - despite the fact that they were subjects of a maniacally harsh retribution - was to override discrimination and integrate themselves fully into Soviet society. That this attitude is a puzzle (at least to outsiders) is alluded to by Guchinova in her delicate handling of comparisons with other deported peoples, who reacted differently. The results of integration for Kalmyk culture were marked ? a turn to the Russian language, a new and more diversified range of economic occupations, the wiping-out of previous localised clan organisation, and the loss of Buddhist religious traditions (though the latter have been revived in new forms recently). The wider question of how this adaptation compares with the fate of other small nations will only become apparent when further studies of equivalent range and depth to this one have been carried out.
In the final part of her book Guchinova discusses the overcoming of collective trauma and the reactions of todays youth, the third generation after those deported. In the 199os a remarkable endeavour sought to come to terms with the past by sending "Memory Trains" from Kalmykia to the various sites of exile. The first train set off in 1993 with 324 passengers to visit again the places "where my people, unfortunately, had been" - Tyumen, Omsk, Barnaul, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk. Four ensembles of singers and dancers were among the passengers, most of whom were people who had been born and grown up in Siberia. They were greeted at each station by local officials with the traditional Russian offering of bread and salt. On the side of the passenger cars was a large placard: "Kalmykia" - with thanks to Siberians. Indeed, this was the theme that was to dominate this act of repetition and recuperation. Recognising places of youthful trials, joys and adventures, the passengers now conceptualised Siberia as their "second home" and gratefully acknowledged the kindness of ordinary Siberians in helping them to survive. Assessing the fact that the President of the Republic took part, that memorials to victims were set up in Siberia, and that the Memory Trains became integrated into Kalmyk public life, Guchinova asks why this act was so necessary for the ordinary Kalmyk people and their leaders. Is it not, she responds, because memory is not just the vessel of the text of collective memory but also, primarily, the editor of this text? The revised edition of the story of the ?echelons of injustice? channelled thoughts into a safe and humane current, creating a variant that was acceptable both to the officials and the people. Guchinova analyses this reaction not as expediency but as a reflection of an underlying Buddhist ethic of self- healing.
It is impossible to cover adequately all the riches of this book. But I hope I have conveyed enough of its remarkable achievements to whet the appetite of numerous readers. Anthropology certainly needs studies that address honestly and bravely the important issues of our times; and the punished peoples of the USSR deserve for their stories to be unfolded by thoughtful and sensitive members of their own communities, as in this case.
Professor of Asian Anthropology
University of Cambridge