Friday, May 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Northern Peoples Link Up with Foreign Activists to Fight Developers

Paul Goble

Baku, May 24 – Russia’s numerically small peoples of the North and the Far East have linked up with international environmentalist groups to fight the depredation of their lands and waters by corporate development there, a coming together that has dramatically multiplied their influence in Moscow.
Up to now, large Russian corporations, both government and private, have acted more or less as they wanted in regions where the indigenous population was both small and not particularly politically savvy. But now that is changing, as the Northern peoples have found both their natural allies and their own distinctive voice.
One measure of this is the release last week of a remarkable map, prepared jointly by the Canada-based Center for the Support of the Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North and the Russian Academic Center of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, showing the locations of the most important of these disputes (
The map of what the Northern peoples call the new “hot spots” in Russia shows conflicts across an enormous swath of the Russian Federation from Murmansk to Kamchatka, classifying them both by the issues involved (water, mining, and the like) and by the peoples as well (АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/2897/----/Default.aspx).
Some might be tempted to see this as simply an effort by large international groups like the World Wildlife Fund to make use of the numerically small peoples, but in fact, it is a genuinely mutual form of cooperation, one in which the indigenous population may be playing just as great a role as the big organizations.
For example, next Tuesday, the World Wildlife Fund has scheduled a protest in front of Rosneft headquarters in Moscow to demand that the oil company stop destroying the only place where a particular form of flowering plant grows, a noble enterprise and the one WWF has stressed on its site (
But the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) has “hijacked” the action, renaming it at least for the purposes of its member peoples, “Kamchatka [not the plant WWF is concerned with] is Dearer than Oil” – a very different message indeed (АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/2893/-------/Default.aspx).
In doing so, RAIPON is acting with the independence and creativity it has long shown. It has been conducting a fight in public and in the courts against the destruction of the continental shelf around Kamchatka, organizing appeals to Moscow officials and positioning itself not as the defender of local interests but of national ones in the hopes of gaining support (АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/2889/-----/Default.aspx).
Moreover, both on their own and with the advice of their foreign partners, they have learned how to conduct effective propaganda measures. On Thursday, which was World Biodiversity Day, activists in Koryakia opened a food exhibit on the impact of oil spills on wildlife (
But however clever they may be with such programs, the leaders of the numerically small peoples of the North recognize that their only real hope for success lies in developing ties with environmental and Nordic people organizations abroad. And consequently, they are active participants in the Forum of Indigenous Peoples for Biodiversity, which met in Bonn this week

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