1. This report is submitted by the Russian Federation, a State non party to the 2003 Convention, on the status of two elements inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List, namely: the Cultural space and oral culture of the Semeiskie (initially proclaimed Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001); and the Olonkho, Yakut heroic epos (initially proclaimed Masterpiece in 2005).
The Cultural space and oral culture of the Semeiskie (2008)
2. The Semeiskie, or the so-called ‘Old Believers’, is a Russian confessional group of the Russian population in the Republic of Buryatia in the Baikal region. They have a strong sense of identity and community, which is based on common cultural characteristics, such as language, specifics of religious and everyday life, clothing, architecture, ritual poetry, and original song chant.
3. The element’s viability is under threat from several factors and State intervention is needed to support and safeguard it. Threats include: loss of native speakers, loss of traditional ways of life, urbanisation and globalisation, interruption of traditional modes of transmission, the ageing of bearers and the replacement of traditional architectural elements and materials of Semeiskie villages by modern constructions.
4. Efforts to promote and safeguard the element have included: a ‘Research, preservation and development of culture of the Semeiskie’ programme (2001–06), implemented by the Government of the Republic of Buryatia, the Republic of Buryatia Centre for the Study of Semeiskie and a presidential committee; an international folklore festival of the Old Believers’ artistic groups ‘Razdaysya Korogod’ hosted every two years within a federal target programme ‘Culture of Russia’; the organisation in 2012 of an interregional meeting of Old Believers with a conference alongside the folklore festival; a festival for the children of Semeiskie groups organised by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Buryatia; and a series of publications produced with the support of different funding sources (state budget, sponsors and private funds). The support of Semeiskie culture is part of the cultural policy of the Republic of Buryatia; conservation and development activities devoted to the element are in the list of significant events and funded by the Republican budget.
5. Several actors and stakeholders have been involved in the process of studying, safeguarding and promoting the Semeiskie cultural space and oral culture, including: the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation; the Russian House of Folk Arts; the Government of the Republic of Buryatia; the Republican Centre of Buryatia; the Republican Ministry of Culture of Buryatia; the Republican Ministry of Education and Science of Buryatia; municipal administrations of six districts of the Republic of Buryatia; the East-Siberian State Academy of Culture and Arts; Buryat State University; Buryat Scientific Centre; the Ethnographic Museum of the Baikal region; and public organisations that cooperate with bearers in the Baikal region and overseas, such as the Tarbagatai Cultural Centre of the Semeiskie of Baikal Region or the Society Culture of the Semeiskie (regional organisation).
The Olonkho, Yakut heroic epos (2008)
6. The Olonkho epos has existed since ancient times as an intangible cultural heritage expression of the Turkic Mongolian people. It has had a special place in the spiritual life of the Yakut people due to the lack of any written language. The content of varied Olonkho plots is a form of oral chronicles of the people and is the repository of their historical memory.
7. The viability of the element has been threatened by linguistic changes and socio-historical factors such as the spread of the written language and literacy, book publishing, expansion of radio and television, as well as other sociocultural developments. In addition, repressive measures taken against folklore and epic heritage almost interrupted the epic tradition. Mass media pays little attention to the element and interested youth in cities are at risk of losing connection to epic schools. Nowadays, however, epic storytelling is seeing a revival among many age groups.
8. Changes in linguistic environment and strengthening of bilingualism make it harder to preserve the element in its traditional form and so non-traditional forms such as animation, video and other games, dolls, dance, opera, or drama plays using new technologies are used to perform the epos. Although concerned communities strive to preserve traditional performance, they react positively to innovations if they do not contradict the spirit of the epic works.
9. Both formal and non-formal means of education for transmission are fostered and in eight regions where the epic tradition is strong, children’s epic storytelling schools have been opened. In addition, the Republican Education Ministry has 11 Olonkho pedagogy-based schools and annual children’s oral performance camps, which has significantly contributed to increasing the number of performers and changes in age and gender structure of the group. Individual (often female) masters also continue their own schools: female storytellers predominate among children while, among young people, there is a gender balance. Male storytellers predominate among the older generation.
10. The inscription inspired people to actively study and learn about Olonkho; past respect for performers of the epic is returning and books are being published. The increasing interest is also supported by promotional activities, which include the holding of annual competitions and festivals for all age groups. In addition, 25 November continues to be celebrated as ‘Olonkho Day’ in Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and 2016–25 has been declared the ‘Second Olonkho Decade’ in Yakutia under the ‘State Targeted Programme’ (see below).
11. Several safeguarding actions were taken: the ‘State Targeted Programme for Preserving, Studying and Promoting the Yakut Heroic Epos (2007–15)’ was launched; legislation to protect and preserve the epic heritage of indigenous people of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) was adopted; ten expeditions to identify oral heritage in regions of Yakutia and interregional expeditions (with eight Russian regions) for joint research on Turkic-Mongolian epic heritage were undertaken; the Olonkho Theatre was established for traditional and innovative performances; an information portal and other websites were also set up.
12. Community participation in safeguarding is high and includes building Olonkho Houses, establishing small oral performance collectives, organising exhibitions of folk arts and Olonkho themes, publishing local epos texts, etc.
13. The institutional framework for safeguarding comprises several State and non-state actors, including: the National Organizing Committee for the Olonkho Decade; the Culture and Spiritual Development Ministry of Yakutia; the Olonkho Association – a Republic of Yakutia organization that involves the public through branches in municipalities in safeguarding and promotion of the element; the Institute for Humanitarian Research and Issues of the Indigenous People of the North; the Olonkho Research Institute of North-Eastern Federal University; the National Schools Research Institute; and the Republican Olonkho Centre.