Russian Gift Shops

Do Russian gift shops have little pictures and statues of Siberians and Central Asian dudes like American gift shops have that stuff for Apaches, Cherokees and other Indians?

Not in Moscow or St. Petersburg, no. Maybe in Siberia.

I’ll bet you could find them in the big western Russian cities if you looked hard enough. The usual Russian tourist tat, though, seems to be fur hats, matryoshka dolls and Soviet memorabilia, much of it fake (hammer and sickle army badges, caps, patches etc etc).

No Siberians or Central Asian dudes. We have statue of Lenin. Give you special deal.

In general, the Soviet Union did not idealize its aboriginal people or folk cultures. This has changed somewhat in some of the former Soviet nations which now are re-embracing their roots, but not much in Russia. I have lived in Moscow and Siberia and been all over Russia and you don’t see much revelry for folk culture.

You’d have to look pretty damned hard. I’ve been to Moscow twice in the past few weeks, and was in St. Petersburg a couple years ago. On all three trips I went gift shopping. None of the gift shops and souvenir stands in three airports, three major train stations, countless Metro stations, two hotel lobbies, a couple main shopping streets, and an outdoors arts and crafts market had any pictures, statues, figurines, or dolls of aboriginal or Siberian people, unless you count ethnic Russians. It was all, as you mention, fur hats, matryoshka dolls, and Soviet memorabilia, along with all the standard localized jewelry, paintings, knick-knacks, keychains, magnets, etc.

Where are you shopping that you’re finding “American gift shops have that stuff for Apaches, Cherokees and other Indians?” If it does exist in gift shops, I’m guessing it’s because American Indians are mythologized and known throughout the world due to Western movies (cowboys and Indians and all that).

I’ve traveled through both western Russia and Siberia from 2005-2009 and have never seen anything like what you’re talking about. Things can get locally cultural, but not along the lines of what you’re describing.

In the last year, I’ve seen them in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.

So in places where, I’d imagine, these tribes are nearby. Not so surprising.

in Russian culture the stereotypical “Central Asian” is a hardworking peasant. If you were to depict him, he would be no different from a Russian peasant (well, maybe dressed a bit differently) or Egyptian peasant and so forth. Now, who would want to have figures of boring peasants when you can have figures of “noble” Indians?

In reality many Central Asians were (in the past) steppe nomads. Some even had exciting careers in the cavalry of Ghenghis Khan, Mamay, Tamerlane and similar. But of course, for an enemy to be considered “noble” like Indians, it has to be a pretty tame, not-so-scary enemy. And the invaders from the steppe were anything but.

Also, Russia is still fighting in Chechnya and there are ethnic tensions between Russians and non-Russians in Central Asia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Georgia with actual fighting. Current armed conflict is never as romantic as 100 year old armed conflict.

Cite that there are ethnic tensions and actual fighting between Russians and non-Russians in Central Asia? It’s the first I’ve heard of it. (None of the countries and regions you listed are actually in Central Asia.) I’d also like a cite that there are such tensions in Azerbaijan.

Amusing story: The father of one of the other grad students was in Russia on a business trip, and decided that one of those little nesting dolls would make a nice souvenir. So he asked at the front desk of the hotel where he could buy a matryoshka. The hotel clerk assured him not to worry, that he would just have one sent up to his room for him. Apparently, “matryoshka”, in addition to meaning “nesting doll”, is also slang for “prostitute”.

I did go to a hilarious and quite surreal academic conference in 1995 outside of Novosibirsk, though, on the indigenous peoples of Central Asia. One poor Hungarian guy had prepped his entire talk (on shamistic practices among Central Asian indigenous peoples) in English, which he spoke fluently, because he had been told it was an international conference. Imagine his panic, then, on being informed an hour before his talk that a) he had to do it in Russian, which he didn’t really speak; b) he had to cut it form 45 minutes to ten; and c) he would be following the bizarre lambada performance by a bunch of Russian teenagers, which we had to sit through because we were borrowing their summer camp facility for the conference.

So no, although I spent an entire summer in Siberia and a semester in western Russia (mostly St. Petersburg), I never saw anything like you describe. I did pick up a nifty copy of the Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire, though (it’s sort of an endangered species list of the indigenous ethnic groups of Russia, and it’s actually yellow).

I did not say that Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova, or Azerbaijan were in Central Asia. In fact, I listed Central Asia as a separate location in that sentence, making it clear that I was not asserting that they were part of Central Asia (if I was saying they were in Central Asia, I wouldn’t have, you know, listed Central Asia as one of the places). My point was that there are active ethnic conflicts (or recently active conflicts) in Russia and along its borders.

As for cites that Russia has been involved in conflicts in Central Asia:

While the recent conflict in Kyrgyzstan, does not involve Russia, it is serious violent ethnic conflict in Central Asian FSU:

As for Russian involvement in the conflict in Azerbaijan:

My point was that for Russia, Central Asian cultures (and indeed, many of the FSUs ethnicities beyond Central Asia) are not only not romanticized, but actually feared, in part, because conflict in the FSU among ethnicities is still fresh.

Whatever… none of those cites demonstrate ethnic tensions between Russians and non-Russians. They’re just military conflicts that Russia has been involved in; if they have any origin in ethnic tensions, then they’re between local non-Russian populations, one of whom is supported by the Russian government. The Kyrgyz conflict is between the local Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations; the Azerbaijani conflict is between Azeris and Armenians. The Russian population of Azerbaijan is negligible and, by all reports I can find, suffers no persecution. Russians form a large minority in Kyrgyzstan which was recently granted constitutional recognition and protection. Your example of the conflict in Tajikistan shows no evidence of being ethnically motivated and in any case happened nearly twenty years ago.