Friday, September 7, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russian Duma – Again – Gives Northern Peoples the Runaround

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 7 – The Russian Duma this week voted down an amendment to the law on ecological assessments that would have required those making them to evaluate the impact of any project on the ethnic groups living nearby, a measure Russia’s northern peoples have long sought and had been told was already required.
But in the debate preceding the vote, representatives of the parliament’s committee on ecology – the very people who had told representatives of the northern peoples that such an amendment was required by existing legislation – said that the country “must not mix ecology with ethnography” (, September 6).
Pavel Sulyandziga, the vice president of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Far East and a member of the Russian Federation’s Societal Chamber, expressed his outrage at what he said was the second time that Russian deputies had done this to the ecologically sensitive peoples of Russia’s North.
When his association first approached the Duma, Sulyandziga said, it was told that “it was necessary to make ethnological expertise part of ecological expertise.” And consequently, working with Duma experts, the current draft was prepared. But the recent vote against it is the unfortunate result.
Sulyandziga was clearly outraged: “This result shows,” he said, “that there is no system in the work of the current Duma. Deputies in the adoption of decisions are guided not be the logical development of Russian legislation but by their own inclinations, which [among other things] testify to their weak knowledge of Russian laws.”
Unfortunately, he continued, this week’s vote is not an isolated case, and he gave as an example the following legislative dance concerning the Duma’s decision not to ratify the International Labor Organization code about treatment of ethnic minorities among member states.
In voting it down, Sulyandziga said, the deputies decided to introduce some of its provisions by adopting three laws on indigenous minority ethnic groups, and that is what they did. But then “someone somewhere suddenly decided that it was not necessary to create special laws” for such peoples.
These back and fourth moves by the Duma, he said, are not just part of a legislature dance that can be safely ignored. They have real world consequences, especially for the numerically small nations of the Russian North for whom Sulyandziga is a leading spokesman.
And he pointed to the fact that a law adopted in 2001 calling for the creation of special land-use territories for the peoples of the North and Far East has remained a dead letter. Lest the legislators mix “ethnography with ecology,” they and the government have done nothing.
Over the last six years that the law has been on the books, he said, “not one – not one!!! – such territory has been created.”
What can one say? Sulyandziga asked rhetorically. “It is pathetic. And pathetic is a country that has such deputies. It is pathetic that is has deputies who do not know what they are doing.”

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