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  • Author: Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer x
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Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

This essay, based on field notes from 1976 to 2013, explores resonances of the GULag and exile system in Siberia, focusing on often ignored indigenous peoples in villages and towns. Interethnic relations, diverse community relationships with prison camps, and dynamics of Russian Orthodox and pre-Christian spirituality are explored. Debates about how to understand, teach, and memorialize the significance of the Stalinist system are analyzed, as are issues of shame, moral debilitation, and cultural revitalization. Featured cases include the Khanty of West Siberia, Sibiriaki of West and East Siberia, plus Éveny, Évenki, Yukagir, and Sakha of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). The author argues that what local people have chosen to emphasize as they reflect on and process the GULag varies greatly with their and their ancestors' specific experiences of the camps and exiles, as well as with their degrees of indigeneity.

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Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

An analysis of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation reveals a variety of village and urban reactions to crises of faith and power. The significance for group identity and instances of synergistic group belief are discussed. The transition that has seen amorphous underground shamanic practice lead to the institutionalization of shamanic cosmology is reflected in the recent opening of a temple in the Republic's capital, Yakutsk, and in the various groups that adhere to charismatic healers and seers. Debates about faith, as well as fragmented faith epistemologies, are described. The data derive from over 25 years of intermittent fieldwork in the Republic and with the Sakha diaspora. My approach is situated at the crossroads of medical-psychological anthropology, political anthropology, and new religious movement analysis.