The Friends of Tuva Newsletter
Celebrating Richard Feynman's spirit of adventure
The Friends of Tuva newsletter.
Eighteenth issue: Winter Solstice 1997 / Shagaa 1998.
Published by Friends of Tuva, Box 182, Belvedere CA 94920 USA.
Fax: (415) 789-1177
(If fax doesn't turn on automatically, press 33)
E-mail on the Internet: email@example.com
Home Page on the World Wide Web: http://www.FOTuva.org
Feynman Stamp News
Good news! Richard Feynman made the first cut at the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee
meeting in October! It was not necessary to use your numerous letters and petitions for
this first round --- my appearance at the open meeting of the CSAC at the Pacific 97 world
stamp expo was enough to get our hero into the holding tank.
Now comes a process likened by one person familiar with the workings of the CSAC to a
siege: it will be a long campaign, I've been warned. Thus I need to use your letters and
petitions carefully, at strategic times. That also means you are welcome to send in more
letters and petitions until we reach our goal!
I also solicit your ideas about other scientists who could be honored along with
Richard Feynman, should the idea of a set be chosen by the CSAC. (Please note: apart from
Presidents, no one can qualify for a stamp unless they have been dead 10 years. Assuming
the earliest issue date is 2001, each scientist honored must have died before 1992.)
Please take a moment to share your ideas about other scientists who could be honored as
Send your ideas to Ralph Leighton, Box 182, Belvedere CA 94920, or e-mail them to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org (thats LAFN, not 1AFN). Thank you!
Celebrate Richard Feynman's 80th Birthday
May 11, 1998 will be the 80th anniversary of Richard Feynmans birth. Several book
companies are planning to release new titles to observe the occasion. (More on that in the
next issue.) I have some ideas on how to celebrate RPFs 80th, but I'll spring them on you
later. In the meantime, if you have some thoughts on this, send them in!
More Feynman Comics
Yes, there really is a comic book featuring Richard Feynman --- a few pages from the
30-page Two-Fisted Science: Safecracker were excerpted in the last issue. Now an
excellent 120-page comic book with the same name has been released by its creator, Jim
The cover of Two-Fisted Science (the trade paperback book) features Albert Einstein.
Inside are stories about Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, Bertrand Russell, Wolfgang Pauli,
Werner Heisenberg, Alexi Alexandrov, Niels Bohr, Hans Bethe, and J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Featured most (in over half the book) is --- you guessed it --- Richard Feynman: in the
safecracker story, the story of Arline, lecturing at Caltech, with Tom Van Sant at CERN,
and his last days, with Danny Hillis.
You can see some of the artwork at Jim's website:
Or you can start at Friends of Tuva's homepage: http://www.FOTuva.org.
The 30-page comic book can be ordered from the Tuva Trader (see enclosed). The 120-page
trade paperback can be ordered directly from Ottaviani, but Jim writes:
Even though I make more money when you buy the book from me, I would prefer that you
try your local comic or book store first. Asking for Two-Fisted Science will, in the long
run, help encourage bookstores to stay in the business of providing folks like you and me
an outlet for educational comics.
Jim Ottaviani¹s e-mail address is: Two-Fisted_Science@umich.edu
Tuva had a rather mild November, with temperatures above 0 Fahrenheit. Must be El
Send Holiday Greetings to Tuvan Students in the US
To my knowledge there are four Tuvan students in the US during this academic year. Two
--- Choduraa Khandy and Ailana Irguit --- are here for the second time. The others are
Nadia Lopsang and Nelly Khoz-ool. All are former students of the Lyceum of Tuva in Kyzyl.
The students are staying in the areas of Washington DC, New Jersey, Boston and
If you would like to send holiday greetings to the visiting Tuvan students, please send
your cards to each of them c/o Friends of Tuva, Box 182, Belvedere CA 94920. I'll gather
up the cards and send them to each student in late December (for our traditional season's
greetings), and in late January for Shagaa (Tuvan New Year), which occurs on January 28.
FoT HQ Moves Again
The unexpected family move from Los Angeles to San Francisco a year ago is still having
its effect on FoT HQ. But finally, the end of worse-than-usual chaos is in sight: we found
a home just north of San Francisco and moved into it at the end of September. There is
enough space for FoT HQin that all-American workspace the garage, of course!
The Tuva Trader, that not-so-effective fund-raising arm of Friends of Tuva, is
functioning reasonably well these days. (See copy of items for sale, enclosed.) If you
send in orders to the address below, they can now be processed within a week. Total
turnaround time for US addresses (assuming items are in stock): about two weeks. Please
send correspondence and Tuva Trader orders to: Friends of Tuva Box 182 Belvedere CA 94920.
1997 Tuva Report
by Brian Robert Donahoe
"Whatever happened to Tannu Tuva?" Those simple words, uttered in 1977 by the
late Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, have been emblazoned on T-shirts and
bumper stickers and otherwise immortalized by the organization Feynman inspired, Friends
of Tuva. Feynman's question is even more compelling now than it was in 1977, as Tuva
struggles to redefine itself in the new post-Soviet order.
Tuva (the "Tannu," which means "mountainous taiga," was dropped in
1926), is a republic of the Russian Federation in south-central Siberia, with a population
of 310,000 in a territory about the size of the state of Washington. After a short-lived
run as an independent state from 1921-1944, Tuva was incorporated into the Soviet Union in
1944, the final addition to the Soviet territory, and the last of four independent
countries swallowed up by the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Tuva is currently struggling to distance itself a bit from Moscow's control and
influence and to establish a unique and recognizable identity. In the immediate aftermath
of the collapse of the Soviet Union, these impulses took the form of a nationalistic drive
for secession from the Russian Federation. However, in light of Tuva's economic dependence
on Moscow and the instructive lessons of the tragedy in Chechnya, such nationalistic
sentiments appear to have been submerged for the time being.
Tuva is now looking for subtler means of gaining a greater degree of economic and
political autonomy while remaining within the framework of the Russian Federation. These
subtler means include Tuva's adoption of its own constitution, and a revival and assertion
of Tuva's shamanistic and Buddhist religious traditions. Both of these issues will have an
impact on the future management of Tuva's natural resources and on environmental
Article 1 of the Tuvan constitution asserts Tuva's right to secede from the Russian
Federation. Other fundamental differences between the two constitutions have to do with
control over natural resources. Sovereignty over the natural resources that exist within
its territorywhich include asbestos, gold, zinc, lead, copper, coal, timber and enormous
hydroelectric potentialis, according to some, the only foundation upon which Tuva could
hope to establish a stronger economic base and greater financial independence from Moscow.
There is an inherent tension between this approach and Tuva's religious traditions.
Shamanism in particular is often presented as having an ecological ethic that contrasts
dramatically with the idea of large scale extraction of natural resources.
At present, Tuva's environment is not badly degraded, according to Sergei Oktyayevich
Ondar, Tuva's Minister of Environmental Protection. "At present there aren't any
major ecological problems in Tuva," he said. "Tuva is one of the most pristine
places in all of the Russian Federation."
There are minor problems, however. Ondar said his ministry was looking into chemical
contamination of drinking-water sources from the first stages of rockets launched from
Semi-Palatinsk and Baikonur, which fall back to earth in the areas of western Tuva,
Khakassia and Altai. There are problems of erosion and desertification on the southern
slopes of the Tannu Ola mountains, along Tuva's border with Mongolia. And every year
forest fires wipe out huge swaths of forest throughout Tuva.
As Tuva's leaders look to the future, they will need to figure out not only how to deal
with these problems, but also how to balance the inherent tension between economic
development based on exploitation of natural resources and the ecological ethic that is
presumably an integral part of the religious traditions they are reviving.
White Dust and Gold Nuggets
Nowhere is this tension more evident than in mining. At the Fifth International Uvs
Nuur Symposium, which focused on strategies of sustainable development in Inner Asia, V.N.
Lebedev, the director for the Tuvan Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, asserted that
"Tuva can only live independent of Russia if it can develop industries such as gold
and asbestos mining." Others, however, question the wisdom of this approach both from
the economic and ecological perspectives. In response to Lebedev's suggestion, Viktor
Bugrovsky, the scientific supervisor of the International Uvs Nuur Experiment, noted that
extraction of mineral resources is very destructive, and said that Tuva's mineral
resources are in fact very limited and will be quickly depleted with intensive mining.
Likewise, Ondar noted that the south Siberian ecosystems are too fragile to withstand
industrial-scale mining. "Most of the money from mining wouldn't stay in Tuva
anyway," he added.
Tuva's pride and joy of industrial development, featured on postcards and in photo
books, is the behemoth Ak-Dovurak asbestos mine
in west-central Tuva. Ak-Dovurak is one of the largest
open-pit asbestos mines in the world. Mining activity shrouds the adjacent town of
Ak-Dovurak in a cloud of white dust. (In fact, the name itself means "white
dust.") This has led to elevated levels of emphysema, lung cancer and other lung
The damage from gold mining operations is also evident. From the top of Mount Dgee, one
has a commanding view of the town of Kyzyl and of the "khem belderi," the
confluence of the Bii-Khem and Kaa-Khem rivers, which come together to form the Yenisei.
From this vantage point, the contrast between the murky yellow-brown water of the
Bii-Khem, which carries tailings down from a number of gold-mining operations in Tuva's
northeast, contrasts dramatically with the clear, deep blue waters of the Kaa-Khem, where
there is no gold mining.
"The miners are using a very old technology called amalgamation," Ondar
explained. "Gold in nature is mixed with mercury. The miners use mercury to extract
the mercury, and this then gets into the water. Mercury of course is poisonous to humans
and to animals."
Targeting Tourists and Students
Ondar notes that there are better technologies for extracting gold, but he believes
that Tuva can develop economically without gold mining. "The potential for our
economic progress lies in tourism and in traditional economic activities such as
herding," he said. "It will be very difficult to develop tourism. The main
problems are lack of infrastructure and difficulties with transportation. We're not on a
train route. It will require a lot of investment and a lot of PR, but I believe that it is
Bugrovsky likewise believes that Tuva's future economic development lies in tourism.
"I see no way to sustainable development in Tuva without tourism," he said.
Andriyan Dugarovich Doduk, director of the Uvs Nuur Biosphere Reserve, noted that
environmental protection will not only benefit the health of people, but it will encourage
people to come to Tuva.
"Scientists and tourists will come, and anyone interested in the history of Inner
Asia," he said. "There are archeological sites, historical monuments and tumuli
[mounds] that haven't been excavated yet. This will contribute to the economy of the local
area and of Tuva as a whole."
In addition to tourism, environmental education will have to be a central component of
Tuva's sustainable develop-ment efforts. Zoya Samdan, a researcher at the Tuvan Institute
for Humanitarian Research, said that Tuvans used to live according to principles of
sustainable development. "People for nature and nature for people was the attitude of
earlier generations," she said. "This attitude must be preserved in the
consciousness of future generations." Samdan recommended the introduction of
ecological education in schools.
Steps toward this goal have already been taken. Kyzyl's School #5 has introduced an
ecology program into its curriculum. Salgalga, a new environmental NGO (Non-governmental
Organization) in Tuva, organizes lectures in schools and is planning educational programs,
Ondar said. Project Harmony, a Vermont-based NGO, organizes a student exchange between
Tuva and the United States that emphasizes environmental awareness, said Kathleen O'Toole,
coordinator of Project Harmony's School Linkages Programs. In addition, the Center for the
Coordination of Ecological Enlightenment at the Uvs Nuur Biosphere Reserve in Erzin
coordinates outreach efforts that target the schools. "We must start with the young
people," Doduk said. "We go to the schools, talk to parents, work with
libraries. We give lectures on the biosphere reserve and on the protection of
Perhaps the time has come to rephrase Feynman's words: "Whatever will happen to
Tannu Tuva?" Bugrovsky expressed cautious optimism for Tuva's future. "I want to
think that sustainable develop-ment will give these people the opportunity to raise their
standard of living," he said. "But it depends on the overall economic situation
of our country, which you see is not very good right now."
Ondar, despite his frank assessment of the difficulties facing Tuva, was more confident
that Tuva could find that balance between economic development and environmental
protection. Tuva's minister of environmental protection said, "How could I do this
job if I didn't believe it was possible?"
The Uvs Nuur
Imagine riding a horse from hot desert sands to glacial mountain peaks to Arctic-like
tundra in a single day, with the possibility of seeing everything from camels and vultures
to reindeer and snow leopards along the way. This would be possible in only one place in
the world -- the Uvs Nuur Hollow, where the world's northernmost desert and southernmost
tundra zone meet.
Uvs Nuur is a fascinating, unique and fragile mountain basin straddling the border
between Mongolia and the Republic of Tuva in the Russian Federation. It stretches 400
miles from east to west, and 100 miles from north to south; from 10,000-foot-high
snow-capped peaks to the salty Uvs Nuur lake at about 3500 feet above sea level, into
which the entire depression drains. The more mountainous 20 percent lies within Tuva's
territory, while the remaining 80 percent, composed primarily of steppe, desert-steppe,
and desert, lies within Mongolia.
According to Andriyan Dugarovich Doduk, director of the Uvs Nuur Biosphere Nature
Reserve headquartered in Erzin in southeastern Tuva, within this territory are found five
of the Earth's seven major recognized ecological zones: from true desert through two types
of steppe zones to taiga (heavy forest) and finally, on the snow-capped mountain slopes, a
permafrost-tundra zone. The only major ecological zones not represented within the
territory are savannah and humid tropical forest.
The existence of so many ecological zones in such a compact area, as well as the
self-contained nature of the depression, make Uvs Nuur ideal for studying such biospheric
processes as the relationships between zones and the transition from one zone to another.
"That's why it is quite correct to take the Uvs Nuur hollow as a nature-model,
allowing us to study all biospheric processes within that small area," wrote Prof.
Viktor Bugrovsky, the scientific supervisor of the International Uvs Nuur Experiment, in
the 1993 publication, Experiment "Uvs Nuur".
The area is home to a number of endangered animal species and endemic [unique to that
area] plant species, Doduk said. In addition to the highly publicized snow leopard, there
are mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, and a number of species of eagle, kite, and
vulture. At least 44 endemic plant species have been identified.
Researchers from Russia, Tuva, Buryatia, Altai and Mongolia have been collaborating
since 1984 in what is called the "Uvs Nuur Experiment." They shared their
findings at the Fifth Uvs Nuur International Symposium, a bi-annual event held this past
July in Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva.
In recent years Bugrovsky, Doduk and others involved with Uvs Nuur have been lobbying
to have the Uvs Nuur hollow included in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) World
Network of Biosphere Reserves, a network of 352 bio-sphere reserves in 82 countries. It
looks like their efforts are about to pay off.
Jane Robertson, Program Specialist in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the
MAB Program, noted that both parts of the Uvs Nur hollow --- the part in Tuva and the part
in Mongolia --- were coming up for consideration at the next meeting of the MAB Bureau.
Assuming that one minor technical problem relating to maps of the area can be resolved,
Robertson said she expected applications from both the Mongolian and Tuvan sections of the
depression to be accepted.
If both sites are included in the World Network, they may jointly apply for designation
as a Trans-Frontier Biosphere Reserve. In this case, Russia and Mongolia would cooperate
to manage Uvs Nuur as a single reserve. This approach is becoming more common and has
proved successful in other biosphere reserves such as the Tatra Biosphere Reserve on the
border between Poland and Slovakia. Such an arrangement would address what Doduk has
identified as the single biggest problem Uvs Nuur faces. "At present, the main
problem is that there is an international border running through the middle of the
depression," he said. "Visa requirements and travel and research permission make
scientific collaboration difficult. If Uvs Nuur is included in the World Network, this
problem will be eliminated."
Doduk also said that he expected enforcement of regulations to be easier than it is
now. "If it becomes part of the World Network, protection of the reserve will become
the responsibility of the entire world, not just of Tuva and Mongolia," he said.
Robertson noted that although the full responsibility for the management of the
reserves will still be up to the individual countries and they can expect no direct
funding from UNESCO, UNESCO can help facilitate projects and sometimes help to implement
them as well. In addition, UNESCO provides a framework for cooperation and information
exchange among other members of the regional network. Robertson said, "The biosphere
concept provides a mutual framework for working across boundaries." She noted that
Uvs Nuur could become a part of the East Asia Biosphere Reserve Network, which includes 13
biosphere reserves in Mongolia, China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.
(Right after I finished this article, I received word Robertson that Uvs Nuur's
application for inclusion in the MAB network has indeed been accepted.)
Whitewashed stones spelling out the words "SUZUK," "ERTEM," and
"CHYRYDYYSHKYN" --- Faith, Science and Enlightenment --- shone in the early
morning sun from the rocky slopes of Kyzyl Dag in western Tuva as a trail of Tuva's most
notable social scientists and activists slowly made their way up to the peak of the
mountain. This was the opening ceremony of the first of what is hoped to be an annual
conference devoted to the sustainable development of Tuva. The conference, held in the
mountainous Bai Taiga kozhuun (county), was organized by Khostug Tyva (Free Tuva) and
Ertem (Science), two organizations at the vanguard of Tuva's nascent NGO movement.
Free Tuva started up in 1996 and already boasts a membership of more than 1,000 members
throughout Tuva, according to Free Tuva executive committee member Albert Khaplak. Free
Tuva sees a synthesis of modern education and Tuva's Buddhist and shamanist religious
traditions as the path to enlightenment, which will ultimately lead to economic
prosperity. Tuva must become "free" as the first step toward economic
development, Khalpak said. But he was quick to emphasize that he was not referring to
political independence from the Russian Federation, a touchy issue here where a strong
vein of nationalist sentiment is never far from the surface. "Tuva must be free of
crime and corruption, free from ecological pollution," Khalpak said. "We must be
free of our own cultural backwardness. We don't even know our own language, culture,
history, traditions and customs.
This is why we call our organization 'Free Tuva.' When we solve these issues, the
question of secession from Russia won't arise because it won't be significant."
Ertem, the other principal organizer of the conference, takes its name from the Tuvan
word for science. It is an independent association of 35 researchers and scientists
devoted to the sustainable development of Tuva's economy, according to conference
organizer and Ertem director Dadar-ool Khertekovich Dansyuryun.
Dansyuryun believes that the way to sustainable development is to revive Tuva's
traditional culture, and introduce Western technological know-how and democratic
institutions to create a progressive, democratic Tuvan society. Ertem and Free Tuva
organized the conference to elicit ideas from Tuva's most prominent academics and
activists. And while there was a governmental presence in the form of an address by
Speaker of the Parliament Kaadyr-ool Bicheldei, the Bai Taiga Conference represented the
largest and most highly publicized effort to date of Tuva's small NGO community.
One of the more significant albeit understated features of the conference was that
about 90 percent of the talks were given in Tuvan, the indigenous Turkic language of the
area. This was a subtle playing out of one of the emergent themes of the conference ---
the need to raise the Tuvan language to a level of prestige and prominence equal to or
beyond that currently enjoyed by Russian.
A number of speakers referred to the need to improve ecological awareness and
education. Krass Baiyroolovich Salchak, a Candidate in Pedagogy at the University of Tuva
(formerly the Pedagogical Institute, and two others in Kyzyl which have all merged), noted
that in pre-Soviet times, ecological ethics were taught by schools as a matter of course.
"People knew what was needed, and they taught it," he said. "This was lost
in Soviet times. Now we must return to teaching ecological ethics in the old way." In
addition to cultural and ecological issues, social issues such as rising crime rates,
alcoholism, rural-urban migration and health problems received attention.
The tenor of the conference was optimistic and sincere, the participants enthusiastic,
the recommendations practical and hopeful. Yet beyond the stated intention of trying to
turn the Bai Taiga conference into an annual event, no concrete resolutions were made.
This brings up another major theme of the conference: lack of money. This common
refrain was echoed by virtually every speaker at the conference. The Tuvan life
expectancy, the lowest in the former Soviet Union, is declining, while the cost of living
has escalated well beyond the means of the average Tuvan family, where the salaries are
one-tenth of the Russian average, noted Gennadii V. Kolmakov. Recommendations are made and
programs designed, but there is no funding to carry them out. Soviet-era textbooks are
still used in the schools while completed manuscripts on the history, language, and
culture of Tuva languish unpublished on the shelves of the Institute of Humanitarian
Research because there is no money to publish them, according to Institute director
Churguy-ool Mikhailovich Dorzhu.
But money alone will not solve Tuva's ills, nor will it appear out of nowhere. Other
obstacles to development must be overcome first, and prosperity will follow.
On the windswept summit of Kyzyl Dag that first day of the conference, Dansyuryun spoke
of a combination of educational and spiritual development as the necessary prerequisite to
economic development. "We must enhance the role of science and research," he
said. "We must raise the level of education and the standard of living. But without
faith, people can't prosper, no matter how wealthy they might be."
Versions of these articles will appear in the Winter 1997 issue of Surviving Together, a quarterly journal on grassroots cooperation in Eurasia.
Brian Donahoe is a Ph.D
student in anthropology at Indiana University. His principal research interest is
indigenous natural resource management among the reindeer herders of the Todzhu region of
Tuva. He is also a freelance journalist. These articles are part of the thesis project for
his Master's degree in journalism.
The author would like to give special thanks to Rollanda Nikolaevna Kongar, Lyubov
Shuluyevna Shoiduk and Taraa Kuular for their help in gathering this information and for
their kindness, patience and support throughout his stay in Tuva. The author would also
like to thank Indiana University's Department of Anthropology and Office of International
Programs for grants that made this trip possible.