Friday, August 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Indigenous Minorities Organize to Resist Moscow’s Policies

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 7 – Russia’s numerically small indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East are marking the International Day of Indigenous Peoples this weekend with expressions of concern about the ways in which Moscow’s policies threaten their survival and with efforts at creating organizations to resist those policies by attracting support from abroad.
In recent years, the leaders of these communities say, Russian government policy has taken away “the means of existence” from the roughly 250,000 members of these communities even while Moscow continues to “proudly” but falsely claim in international for a that it supports them (
Changes in Russian legislation to allow for commercial exploitation of the natural wealth of the regions where these communities have lived “from time immemorial,” the leaders of these small and dispersed ethnic groups say, have “taken the ground from under their feet” and left them with little or no chance to survive.
Fishing and hunting have been privatized, with outsiders often gaining exclusive rights to what had been the basis of the subsistence economies of these peoples even in Soviet times. And any concessions to the native peoples, their leaders say, have been “laughable:” In one case, for example, local people have been allowed to catch only 2.5 kilograms of fish per person per year.
Despite that, the local leaders say, “our government proudly declares to the entire world that it is successfully carrying out the Action Plan for Conducting the Second International Decade of Indigenous Peoples of the World (2005-2014) and has already developed a Plan for the implementation of the Conception of Stable Development” for these groups.
“But the indigenous peoples know that you cannot survive on plans alone” and that it is important that “you have the right tomorrow to catch a fish or hunt for a rabbit. But the indigenous peoples of Russia have been deprived of these rights.” And as a result, what is supposed for them to be a happy holiday is a bitter one instead.
Some of the indigenous peoples together with their allies and friends in the ecology movement are taking action. Yesterday, the No Reservoir [] Ecological Organization of Krasnoyarsk announced plans to create a Council for the Stable Development of Evenkia (
The group, which has been fighting Moscow’s plans to build a hydroelectric dam that will flood much of the traditional land of the Evenks and which has been accused of “extremism” by the backers of the project, has put out a draft plan entitled “Evenkia without the Giant Hydro-Electric Dam: The Path to Stable Development of the Region.”
That 22-page document, available at, not only challenges the claim of the backers of the dam that only its construction can serve as “a locomotive for the development of the economy of this northern region” but also offers an alternative vision that would allow the Evenks and other numerically small peoples to survive.
In the course of laying out their plans, the ecologists expressed the hope that “the preliminary materials for the program of the stable development of Evenkia will serve as a stimulus to the working out of new ideas concerning the means of the further development of all the northern territories of Siberia.
Like most ecologists around the world, the Krasnoyarsk group believes that “the economic development of the northern Siberian regions presupposes the rapprochement of nature and society, the combination of contemporary achievements of science and technology with the beauty of nature and not its destruction in the name of an abstract economic result.
In issuing this draft document, the Plotina Ecological Organization called on all interested individuals and groups around the world to “take part in the discussion of the materials” their draft contains and to join the Council for the Stable Development of Evenkia by send an email to

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