Thursday, September 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Amalgamation Plan Backfires as Evenks Seek Republic Status

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 10 – The 35,000 Evenks, who had the status of an autonomous district before Vladimir Putin orchestrated their amalgamation into Krasnoyarsk kray, now believe they must seek republic status in order to defend their rights, a political upgrade that one analyst argues could point the way for other numerically small Northern peoples to follow.
In an article entitled “Evenkia Must Become a Republic,” Dmitry Verkhoturov says that Moscow’s approach to the Evenks before, during and after the 2007 amalgamation effort reflects the “colonial” thinking of many in Moscow, thinking that ignores the interests of local people in the pursuit of profit for those at the center (
That approach, he suggests, has affected not only the Evenks but all the Northern peoples of the Russian Federation who “step by step” as in the amalgamation effort “have been deprived [by Moscow] of [their] independent standing, representation at the federal level, and the rights” guaranteed to them by the Russian Constitution.
All of those dangers became more obvious in the course of the amalgamation effort, Verkhoturov says. “The basic idea” of folding Evenkia and Taymyr into Krasnoyarsk kray was that it would end the need to subsidize the regions. But in fact, the analyst says, “unification solved nothing.”
Sold by Putin and his government as a way to combine one donor region and two subsidized ones into a single donor region, Verkhoturov points out, unification did not “resolve the problem of subsidized regions” but “only shifted the subsidies from one budget [Moscow’s] to another [Krasnoyarsk’s].”
That may have allowed Moscow to claim a victory, but on the ground, it was obvious to everyone that there had been no such magical triumph. And that was all the more obvious when unification at the start of 2007 opened the way for the launch of new gigantist “mega-projects” under the terms of which the true cost of what was going on could be hidden from some.
In the case of Evenkia, that project turned out to be the Evenk Hydro-Electric Dam, a program that if completed would bring big profits to Moscow but have the effect of destroying even what was left of Evenkia, a set of municipalities with ever fewer distinctive rights and no opportunity to defend them in Moscow where the decisions are made.
If the dam is built, Verkhoturov points out, the reservoir it will create will not only flood the historic lands on which the Evenks have lived from time immemorial but cut their land in half and eliminate their ability to reach the Yenisey River, thus limiting their ties with other peoples and eliminating their opportunities to use their own resources to support themselves.
It is “instructive,” he continues, that “preparation for the Evenk dam had a stormy start immediately after Evenkia was converted into a municipal district and lost its representation at the federal level.” That appears to have been by design for it meant that the Evenks would be “represented” by someone who backed the dam project rather than by someone who opposed it.
Today, two years after the amalgamation occurred, it is “obvious” that it did not “achieve either its formal or its real goals.” Formally, Evenkia remains as it was a territory that must be subsidized because “the causes of this were not liquidated. More than that, a project was proposed which will throw the economy of Evenkia back a century.”
Because of the threat the dam poses, the Evenks set up the [“No Reservoir”] website, and last month, they announced on that site the creation of a Council for the Stable Development of Evenkia, which in turn has come up with an alternative plan for the economic development of the region (
That plan calls for developing the region’s natural resources so that the Evenks will not need subsidies, for building on its internal reserves, and for the beginning of industrialization to provide support for the community in the future, all without the dam that would destroy Evenkia and the Evenks.
This plan, Verkhoturov says, would achieve what Putin’s unification could not – end the requirements for a subsidy – and serve as a model for Russian development of the Northern peoples. But to make it work, he says, Evenkia must again become “a full-fledged” subject of the Russian Federation.
Not “’an autonomous district’” as in the past, he continues, but “a full-blown Republic of Evenkia with its own government, legislative organs, and its own budget.” That will save the Evenks, but more than that, this step will point the way for other numerically small Northern peoples to develop.
The creation of such a republic, he continues, “will raise the moral spirit of the people,” and it is thus entirely justified even though many continue to ask “how is it possible to create a subject of the Federation in which the total population amounts to only 17,700 people?” (Many Evenks now live outside its borders.
But such queries not only ignore the reality that many other small peoples have the status of federation subjects but also that the size of the Evenk community is “the result of the length inattention to the economic development of the region, the result of the inability to create a productive economy capable of feeding more people in a normal way.”
If Moscow allows Evenkia to gain republic status, “to conduct its own economic policy, then with time, the socio-economic conditions in it will improve and the population will begin to grow both as a result of natural increase and because of the return of many of those Evenks who left earlier.”
The Russian government may never permit this, of course, but what is taking place in Evenkia now shows how dishonest Putin and his government were in promoting amalgamation and how many people in Evenkia and in other numerically small communities of Russia now understand that sad fact.
And because they both understand and are prepared to use the power of the electronic media to communicate their feelings, Moscow’s objections may prevent the Evenks and others from achieving their goals but only at the cost of alienating ever more of them, something the central government, however “colonial” its inclinations, will have to deal with in the near future.

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