Interviewing Sherig-ool Oorzhak, president of Tuva

In may of 1990 the Parliament of the Republic of Tuva adopted the Declaration of state Independence. Two years later in April of 1992 it witnessed the inauguration ceremony of the first nationally-elected President of the Republic of Tuva. Sherig-ool Oorzhak did not leave a change to his contender. For the first time in Tuvan history the highest official of the republic was dresses in a traditional Tuvan coat and belted with a khadak-sash from which hung a beautifully ornamented sheath with a knife.

You have put the coat, sheath and knife into the museum, havenīt you?

Itīs a bit early to have them there. All of the things I wore for my Presidential inauguration , I keep in my study for use when needed.

Did you ever dream of becoming President of a republic?

No, I did not. I allways wanted to be a militery mav. In a way it was predetermined by my name. ("Sherig" in Tuvan means "military") This did not come true. Even though I served in the army with Rocket Forces and now am a reserve officer.

Who, besides your parents, have greatly influenced your life?

There are many. The first I can remember is Galina Ivanovna Petrova, our class tutor. I had the reputation to be a desobedient and cocky pupil. The majority of teachers disliked my independent behaviour and would have rather dealt with shy and more dutiful children. Very soon my situation worsened with practically all the teachers. If it had not been Galina Ivanovna, a young teacher, fresh out of the Institute the situation could have taken a really bad turn. She believed in me and took me into class she supervised. I finished school well.

Where is she now?

She still works in Kyzyl. We meet from time to time, but unfortunately not so often as we would like.

What was your favourite school subject?


Where and when did you meet your wife?

We met in Moscow studying together at the Agricultural Academy. I entered the academy after my Army service; she immediately after school.

So, Moscow is a somewhat special and significant city for you.

It really is. We were married in Moscow and our first baby was born there. As students we could not afford many things, and I worked both as a street cleaner and as a railway car unloader. I remember this time with warm feelings in spite of all the difficulties.

Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachiov, Bill and Hillary Clinton... Can we draw the parallel in regard to you and your wife as a presidential couple?

Iīve got what you are hinting at, but I think itīs not the case. My wife Sara Mongushevna is of a "behind the scenes" kind of person; she works hard with our large family and it is she who makes our family strong and holds things together. She does her best to save me from everyday problems which are no less than a ordinary family has. Take my word for it, she covers my back, and I`m grateful to her for it. She takes my problems as her own, but never interferes in my work. She is the modest. I will never allow a relative to give me recommendations for various appointments. I, as a husband, son and brother, maintain friendly terms with my kinsfolk in family relations, but as the President , when it comes to work, I have to keep them at a certain distance in order to be objective and independent.

In the political sphere much depends on the leaderīs surrounding. Do you have your own team? Who are in it? and how much can they influence your actions?

The work of the president without a team, no matter how smart the leader is, would bring poor results. I am realistically-minded and considering that the republic is not large and that there is a certain shortage of good specialists, I, for one, have never started working in a new position as a chief by firing people who had been working there before I came. My experience shows - one can always find common lanquage and grond with the prevailing majority of smart workers and specialists independently of ideology and party to which they may belong. Itīs a stupid and cruel thing to human relations to fire a professional only for the fact that his religion is islam and he does not eat pork. My main principle in selection of personnel is succession. Certainly it works only in relation to professionals.

My observation is - you still donīt trust people who work for you. I cannot find any other explanation to your frequent visits to the most remote places of the country and your effort to contact directly with ordinary people.

There is a golden rule "Trust but control". Iīm put in the know of the situation in different places of the republic, but I prefer to have fresh direct information from people. Specially at present with all this confusion and mess which we have. I need to see with my own eyes , where we have suceeded., what has been realized, and what resolutions remain blocked paper. Anoher reason why I like these meetings with with people is that itīs the kind of air I can breathe in. Myself, I came from the lowest level of lifeīs hierarchy. First I worked as a carpenter and a concrete worker and Iīve never broken links with simple people. Rumours has it , that "the only thing Oorzak does is to visit chabans (tuvan shepherds) and drink tea" I hope these rumors stay on the consciences of those who spread them.

What kind of Tuva would you like to build: socialist, capitalist...?

We are building a state without "...isms". It would be a democratic, legal state based on a market economy; a subject of the russian Federation with the same equal rights as others and open to the world. Our people have had enough of those "...isms": total egalitarianism of collectivism, myths of developed socialism, fairy tales about communistic paradise. Done with it!

Weīve touched upon myths. I have one in mind. Let me ask you a rather unpleasant question. Can the idea of Tuvan state sovereignity be realized in the visible future?

We need, first of all, economic independence, and the budget of the republic is still 90% dependent on federal subsidies. Tuva is a republic with huge potential. The trouble began with the conditions of the distorted economy of the Ex-Empire. There were no sense and need to develop that potential for our benefit as the colonies had always served the Empire as the supplier of raw materials for the indrustially developed centre. Just look what progress ex-colonies: Taipei, Singapore, Hongkong, have made as soon as they had their hands free. I donīt like such a straight analogies and you will be the first to remind me of the preferable geographic locations these Asian "tigers" occupy. Even more, they have always lived in market conditions. Right. But we have something that the mentioned SIngapore people can only be dreaming of. Economists and analysts of many high-developed countries, independently of each other, came to the same paradoxal conclusion: the 21st century will be the century of coal! Why so? Itīs because the world oil reserves are coming to end. The earth entrails in Tuva have one of the biggest reserves in the world of coking coal of very high quality, out of which you can produce practically everything - from margarine to gasoline of the best standards. 20 billions of tons is the amount of the prospected coal-field in Tuva. And where else on the earth can you find a place where the ore with the striking concentration of bismuth lies open in rocks on the surface? Copper, mercury, other rare elements - the whole Mendeleevīs tabel is represented in Tuva. And our nature? According to the UNESCO estimation; potentially Tuva is 45 times more attractive to tourists than Switzerland.

What are, in your opinion, the principle traits of the Tuvan national character?

Modesty, slow pace decision making and estimation taking and mutual assistance. This mutual help has caused our people to live through many years wars, conflicts, hardships and difficulties. 47 years of actuallyl imposed Europeanization made the Tuvan national character somewhat dissolved. I hope that we will stop this process.

Of late, we have taken up a bad habit - to pour dirty water on the retired politicians and statesmen. What about you? Are you afraid of this? Even an ideal leader could have made mistakes.

This phenomenon can be easily explained and is historically objective. Itīs a sign of our extremely low political culture, which manifests itself in above-mentioned attitude towards ex- state leaders. We detested the ones appointed by the Political Bureau and although the way to power has changed diametrically - Yeltsin was elected by the whole nation - the attitude to them has remained the same. People donīt understand one thing: showing no respect for the rulers you elect shows that you donīt respect yourself. However , Iīm ready to accept the fact that some people will speak negatively of me. There is one consolation . History is not written by wicked tonques. The time will be the referential judge. History will put everyone into his proper place and will show who has lived for the benefit of the people. Iīm not afraid of this judgement.

by Tuva Magazine

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