Thursday, January 22, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Finno-Ugrics Seek Support from Kyiv against Russian ‘Colonialism’

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 22 – The gas Moscow is now using as a political weapon against Ukraine was first stolen by Russia from the Finno-Ugric peoples of Western Siberia, and that “amoral theft” should be condemned not only by the European Union but “particularly” by Ukraine, a Finno-Ugric activist has told a Kyiv newspaper.
In an interview published in “Gazeta” two days ago, Rostislav Martynyuk, a Finno-Ugric scholar and activist of the Society of Peoples of the Finno-Perm Group, said that 80 percent of “so-called Russian” gas comes from the Khanty-Mansiisk district and the Yamal Peninsula, whose peoples in 1992 declared the natural resources there to be their property.
“Ignoring” their actions, Martynyuk said, is “against the law.” But “from the very first, when the Khanty and Mansi declared sovereignty over their resources, the Moscow cartels systematically bought up the organs of local power and [many] ordinary people’ there as well (
“Are the indigenous peoples receiving compensation from the gas and oil Moscow takes from the region?” the Finno-Ugric activist asked rhetorically. “In the best case, they receive bribes,” over in the form of “a bucket of vodka.” But this, like Moscow’s use of gas as a political weapon, is “illegal and provocative behavior” and must be condemned.
And Ukrainians should be the first to recognize this, Martynyuk continued. That is because at one time, Russia discovered gas in Ukraine and exported it to Russia. That was “theft,” too, the activist argues. And just as Moscow is using the money it earns from the sale of Khanty, Mansi, and Nenets gas now, it used Ukrainian gas in the past.
In response to “Gazeta” journalist Igor Kozlovsky’s questions, Martynyuk acknowledged that the Finno-Ugric peoples are having a hard time organizing to press their demands. On the one hand, he notes, they are relatively small and extremely dispersed peoples and that in many places there are 50 residents who have come from outside to every one of the natives.
And on the other, he noted that members of the Finno-Ugric peoples are subject daily to “a five minute hate” program on Russian television where Putin and pro-Kremlin journalists like Mikhail Leontyev tell them that their gas has been stolen not by Moscow “billionaires” but by Ukrainian transit workers.
But Martynyuk said he nonetheless was hopeful about the future, adding that many Finno-Ugrics in Western Siberia had been inspired by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ call last year for them to draw on the example of their European “relatives” and “struggle for national liberation and statehood.”
That is what many are now doing, Martynyuk said, and they look to Ukraine for support not only because it is suffering from the same kind of “colonial” policy that Moscow is visiting upon the Finno-Ugrics of Western Siberia but also because there are many members of Finno-Ugric diasporas in Ukraine itself.
One of the biggest obstacles to Finno-Ugric activism inside the Russian Federation is that the groups speak languages, which while all members of the same language family, are not mutually intelligible, a pattern that Soviet policy sought to magnify in the languages its officials used in schools and media.
But now, there may be a way to bridge such divides so that the members of these communities to use Russian as their lingua franca. That is a new Finno-Ugric Esperanto language that scholars have prepared drawing on the Finno-Ugric languages now inside Russia as well as Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian (
While Esperanto-type languages often have not succeeded, this one appears more likely to not only because it taps into the desire of Finno-Ugrics to unite with the three Finno-Ugric countries but also because of the 240-page online dictionary and grammar released this week (,com_docman/task,doc_details/Itemid,32/gid,4/).
At least it has some in Moscow concerned. Journalist Yana Amelina who has often attacked non-Russian activism has just published an article in a Russian nationalist journal denouncing as absurd albeit dangerous such efforts at what she dismisses as “internet separatism” (

No comments: