Monday, March 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Regional Amalgamation Scheme Leads to ‘Cultural Genocide,’ Komi Permyaks Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 16 – Komi-Permyak activists, residents of the first small non-Russian federal subject to be folded into a larger and predominantly ethnic Russian region as part of Vladimir Putin’s amalgamation policy, say that this process, despite the promises Moscow made at the time, is leading to “the cultural genocide” of their small nation.
And because that result violates Russian laws, the country’s constitution, and Moscow’s commitments under international treaties of various kinds, the activists in the last ten days have stepped up their campaign both within Russia and abroad to reverse the results of 2005 amalgamation of their region into Perm kray -- if not indeed the amalgamation itself.
At the end of last week, an activist of the Komi-Permyak national movement, distributed an appeal to the Russian and Finno-Ugric media describing the terrible conditions the Komis in the new Perm kray now find themselves and promising to mobilize international support to change their status (
The activist wrote that “with the liquidation of the national-territorial autonomy of the Komi-Permyaks, the powers that be have been methodically destroying the Komi-Permyak people and its national identity,” closing Komi-language schools, cultural centers, film outlets, and a local publishing house (
“We consider,” she wrote, “that such actions contradict state policy and violate the rights of national minorities and human rights. We will speak out in defense of district and urban cultural institutions” now “under threat.” And “we intend to attract the attention to this problem of all fraternal Finno-Ugric regions both in Russia and abroad.”
Those groups include the Mari, the Mordvin, and the Udmurt within the Russian Federation and the Estonians, Finns and Hungarians beyond, all of whom have proved adept at mobilizing international support for embattled groups, in particular the Mari who have suffered under particularly harsh ethnic Russian leadership in recent years.
Over the weekend, the Komi-Permyaks showed a film they had made to a festival in Krasnoyarsk. Entitled “Nine Forgotten Songs,” the film -- which Perm had banned -- describes the Komis’ difficult life ( It can be viewed online at
And now this week, last week's declaration has been expanded and become an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Russian officials in Perm and Moscow. Signed by more than a 100 people already, it denounces what the Perm kray officials are doing as “cultural genocide” (
That open letter, which contains both descriptions of conditions in the expanded Perm kray and analysis of applicable legal, constitutional and treaty obligations which make those responsible for these conditions at risk of being charged with genocide, has now been posted on a variety of websites and a few publications.
The most significant of the latter so far is the “Permsky obozrevatel’” which not only reproduced the open letter in full but appended supportive comments from Komi-Permyaks which provide a clear albeit disturbing portrait of a people that feels it has been betrayed and may not survive (
The Initiative Group of Residents of the Komi District said that “before unification with the Komi-Permyak district, Perm promised a great deal. … [Despite that] we all voted against unification. Among our acquaintances, we do not know a single one who voted for it. But they unified us anyway (
Another commentator argued that “the Kremlin has adopted a policy designed to destroy the national autonomies and republics.” They started with a small district but now even the biggest republics are at risk: “In the Kremlin,” he said, “they have already for a long time dreamed of combining for example Tatarstan with Ulyanovsk oblast.”
And other writers drew the same conclusion: all the non-Russians, one said, “must understand that salvation is possible only in their own autonomy.” Everything else is “just a joke.” Another added that no people must give up its autonomy, and any without it must struggle for it, pointing to those who are doing so now: the Basques, the Tibetans and the Saami.

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