Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In the Altay Republic (Southern Siberia), heritagization involves many actors with divergent intentions. In order to develop tourism and stimulate the economy, the local government bets on the image of an ecologically preserved territory, in which Turkic speaking indigenous groups keep ancestral ways of life and traditions. The repatriation, in a museum recently renovated by Gazprom, of a 2500 y.o. Scythian mummy, obviously reveals the tensions provoked by the unilateral political management of cultural heritage.
The Administration considers the embalmed body as a symbol of a unified Republic and of the consolidation of a pan-Altaian identity, in direct continuity with the Soviet policy for the nationalities. Many indigenous people perceive the mummy as a disturbed ancestor, a potential trigger of misfortune, and claim its reburial on the Ukok plateau where it comes from. Lastly, a plurality of actors oppose their intentions: industrial Gazprom and the Government support each other in their projects, local people fear and stay away from the museum, and neo-shamans politically commit themselves to defend autochthonous representations. Hence the question: just as Lenin’s body was not his but the Revolution’s, who owns the Ukok Princess’ body?
The analysis of the “museumification” process will allow us to reveal the logics of heritagization in the Altay Republic. To some extent, this case study will stress the diversity of perceptions about the (re)created selected material and immaterial cultural elements of the different Altaian indigenous groups, and their implications in terms of self-perception of ethnic identity.