Siberia: One country, many peoples

Vladimir Pachkov, SJ

 Vladimir Pachkov, SJ / Culture / 22 July 2021

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If Russia is a country of extremes, Siberia is so to a greater extent. In Europe, Siberia is a byword for the freezing cold, but not everyone knows that much of Siberia is tropically hot in the summer. Siberia is a part of the world rich in fossil fuels, which, while helping to keep the global economy alive, also greatly contributes to pollution and climate change. At the same time, Siberia’s woodlands, along with its tropical forests, are the lungs of the world. Also, it is here that up to 80 percent of the available, and largely still pure, drinking water of the entire planet is found.

Since the time of the Tsars, Siberia has been a major prison for both criminals and opponents of the regime, and this unenviable reputation grew with the Gulag camps during the Soviet era. On the other hand, the famous singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysockij, who died shortly before perestroika, having contributed significantly to the collapse of the communist dictatorship with his lyrics, could say of this country: “North, freedom, hope, country without borders. Snow without dirt, like a long life without lies.”[1]

No one knows exactly where the word “Siberia” comes from. It may be of Turkish origin (siber: “beautiful”) or Mongolian (schiber: indicates a marshy area with a birch forest), but it could also derive from the name given to the Mongolian tribe of Tatars: Sabyr.[2]

While the Siberian landscape is beautiful, and some aspects of life – such as the economy or its role in geopolitics – are very interesting, what is most striking are the people who live there. The long process of immigration and coexistence, with mutual adaptation but also conflicts and misunderstandings between the locals and those who came in different waves, offers a fascinating and instructive story for other peoples of the world as well.

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