Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 263,934 Tuvans currently living in the Russian Federation. The majority of Tuvans live in the Tuvan Republic and are primarily pastoralists. Most belong to the Buddhist Lamaist faith. Tuvans are mainly descendants of nomadic groups of Turkified Mongols and speak a Turkic language. Their literary language was converted to a Cyrillic script in 1943.
The area was conquered by Russians in the early nineteenth century. Although it retained some degree of autonomy for 23 years after the civil war (as the Tuvan People’s Republic) and was a de jure independent state between the wars, it was effectively a client-state of the Soviet Union from 1921. In October 1944, the area was annexed by the Soviet Union. Initially it became the Tuvan Oblast but was subsequently upgraded to an ASSR in October 1961. After incorporation into the Soviet Union, Tuva experienced a large influx of Russian settlers, although Tuvans remained in the majority.
Nationalist aspirations were first openly voiced in the area in 1989 when the Tuvan Popular Front was set up and demanded secession from the Russian Federation. Other pro-independence parties, including the Peoples’ Party of Sovereign Tuva (1992), have been established. In 1993 Tuva’s parliament adopted a new Constitution and the right of secession from the Russian Federation; the republic’s official name was also changed from Tuva to Tyva. However, nationalist tendencies were tempered by poverty in the republic, which received most of its finance from Moscow. After 1990 Tuva became the site for a number of inter-ethnic conflicts sparked by the higher standard of living enjoyed by Russians living in the republic compared to the Tuvans. Significant numbers of Russians left the republic as a result of these conflicts.
Since the collapse of Soviet power the Tuvan ethnic majority has consolidated its demographic share from two-thirds to three-quarters of the republic’s population. Tuva nonetheless remains one of the poorest regions of Russia and is heavily dependent on federal subsidies.
Research suggests that the Tuvin language enjoys better prospects than many other minority languages in the Russian Federation. Contrary to the situation in many other minority republics of the Russian Federation, in fact, many Tuvans, especially those living outside the capital city, do not speak Russian. Local authorities have taken measures to strengthen the position of Russian language, including expanding Russian language instruction in rural areas.
Updated December 2020
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