The New Arctic Colonization | The Independent Barents Observer


By Tatiana Britskaya

116 international organizations and dozens of people signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanding that they end the crackdown on those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples. The reason was the recent detention of Andrei Danilov, Murmansk regional director of the Sami Heritage and Development Fund. And this is not the only case of its kind. On the contrary, the pressure on the activists among the indigenous inhabitants of the North, Siberia and the Far East is increasing despite the fact that they are hardly even engaged in politics. Their only program is, and this is much more commonplace, the survival of their small nations and their pressing problems.

Extract from the open letter to Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov:

“We, the organizations and individuals signing this letter, are deeply concerned about the growing threats and reprisals against human rights defenders and activists of indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation. We demand an immediate end to the intimidation and harassment of human rights activists and defenders among the indigenous peoples of Russia.

In this context of political repression, which includes the persecution of the independent press and the search for extremists even among schoolchildren and selfie enthusiasts, the pressure on indigenous peoples seems absolutely absurd. For example, what prompted Yamal police to claim that a meeting of reindeer herders in the tundra was a political rally? This is exactly what has been said in the case of activist Eiko Sarotetto. There was no way to attribute politics to the rally, but Eiko was still accused of staging a fight and, despite the lack of evidence, was sentenced to three months in jail.

And what could prevent the state from harassing Yana Tannagasheva, from Kouzbass, who fought for the preservation of the ancient village of Shor de Kazas? Her father’s house was set on fire, Tannagasheva was forced to emigrate, and now the village of Kazas is gone.


Andrei Danilov is a Sami activist from the Kola Peninsula. Photo: private

Maybe Andrei Danilov is a threat to a country whose whole meaning of existence seems to boil down to a simple thesis: one must comply with the laws passed in Russia. Even when the Constitutional Court apparently recognized that he was right, writing in its judgment “the activist seeks to uphold the laws of the Russian Federation“, he was nevertheless quickly detained and thrown into a cell where a man in civilian clothes came to talk. at the Saam and explained how difficult it is for relatives of overly active citizens …

The Monchegorsk City Court also decided to arrest Danilov and jailed him for five days for refusing to be searched without witnesses. The judge in the ruling referred to the standards of the “On the Police” law which allows police officers to inspect the property of citizens during mass protests. Although the policeman himself fully agrees with Danilov’s testimony during the interrogation, announcing that he wanted to inspect the latter’s property, the law really requires that in more detailed procedures this should be done. with witnesses, Danilov obtained the stay in prison.

Monchegorsk judge would not have noticed the difference between two completely different actions. The two situations seem very similar.

Recently, after a year of house arrest, Evenk Arseny Nikolaev, deputy of the Yakut parliament and head of the national community, passed away. The arrest warrant for him was drafted by officials from the gold company that paved the road through community lands. Nikolaev allegedly lobbied the company, trying to force it to use the services of Evenk carriers. The arbitration considered all the actions of the gold miners to be voluntary, but the criminal case against Nikolaev has not been closed.

Stepan Petrov from Yakutia has twice been appointed “foreign agent” and has been entered in the “register of mass media performing the functions of” foreign agent “. Roskomnadzor accused Petrov of not including a “foreign agent” tag in 14 Facebook posts. Desperate, Stepan turned to Mark Zuckerberg to ask him to help Russia’s “foreign agents” by introducing an algorithm to automatically tag their posts.

This is the second wave of repression against indigenous peoples in our history. The first dates back to the early years of industrialization, when the Arctic and Siberia were colonized and subordinated to the needs of the great country by the Soviets. In the case of the Murmansk region, the map of the Sami cemeteries shows how the natives were pushed towards the center of the Kola Peninsula. During this sad time, the reindeer herders who got in the way were simply transferred to reserves, and the dissidents were sent to the Levashovsky landfill.

During the era of the “Great Terror”, the period of the most massive Stalinist repressions in the USSR in 1937 and 1938, 125 of the 2000 existing Kola Sami were arrested, most were shot and 55 people were sent to the Gulag. Only five of them survived. Among those arrested were almost all of the Sami intelligentsia and the compiler of the first Sami alphabet book. The Sami were too few to fight and submitted humbly.

There have been uprisings. The Yamal Nenets categorically refused to hand over their reins to the state. They called this action the Mandalada. Staying in the tundra without reindeer is death, but for refusing to deliver the animals, they were sentenced to ten years in the camps. The verdict was pronounced the same day of the trial and no specific investigation was carried out. It is curious that the first Mandalada was relatively successful. Its leaders have even been allowed to negotiate directly with the authorities. They issued an ultimatum. They demanded the restoration of the rights of their shamans, the equality of the kulaks (the wealthy nobility) and the poor, the abolition of food standards and the almost complete elimination of Soviet power in Yamal. As a result, the Mandalada itself was eliminated without bloodshed. A second uprising in the 1940s, however, was bloodily suppressed.

The Dolgans also rebelled against their designation and division into kulaks and peasants.

Here is a fragment of the call of the leaders of the uprising of Taimyr:

“Recognizing the Soviet government as the power of the working people, without seeking to overthrow it at all, we natives of the Taimyr National District, from the earliest days of its organization, began to bear the burden of ‘unprecedented taxes. and pressure from local authorities. The reconstruction of our economy on socialist lines has started to take place at the rate of the central party of the Union and without any consideration for the particular conditions of the North. The imposition of these taxes, payments, levies on furs beyond the real possibilities, the incorrect definitions of class stratification, the presence and movements of armed Russians and the numerous excesses of national politics by local authorities among the population native have led to complete indignation.

The Taimyr uprising was swept aside by rifle fire from an NKVD detachment.

To read about the colonization of the North in the 1930s, it is impossible not to draw a parallel with today. Operations always start off simple and are apparently fairly fair at the start. But all demands, not even demands, from indigenous peoples meet a surprisingly harsh rebuff. The decisions taken by the authorities bear the stamp of savage ignorance of the local lands and peoples. One could even assume that they are illiterate. But yet, they managed to put the northern tribes on the brink of extinction. It is their fight for survival that prompts them to protest.

And now, almost a hundred years later, the Russians are once again colonizing the Arctic. The hegemony continues despite the media coverage and will forever be remembered by those forced to live it. In the 21st century, Russia views the Arctic with the same hope the Soviets felt for space, but without any romantic flair. The Arctic is all about resources; oil, gas and platinum. The Arctic is a weapon. The Arctic is power. Colonization is in full swing and no less rigidly than a century ago.

There is a difference, however. If the first colonization of the Arctic was in the interest of the state, the current one, with all the geopolitical discourse, promises only enormous enrichment to private companies. The Arctic is money and the modern state machine no longer serves the ideals of universal happiness. This time, only private interests are served.

It is this new Arctic agenda that human rights activist Rodion Sulyandziga sees as the root cause of the wave of repression against indigenous peoples. Until the Moscow City Court closed it for formal reasons, Sulyandziga, a member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, headed the largest NGO dealing with Arctic issues, the Assistance Center for Indigenous Peoples of the North. Before that, the Center had barely managed to get out of the register of “foreign agents”, but in the end, the victory went to the repressive machine. Sulyandziga is convinced that the persecution of indigenous peoples is linked to Arctic issues:

“The Arctic is just a development issue for Russia. It’s to fill the budget and have access to resources. The natives are not at all against economic development. In fact, they are in favor of it. But we need a balance between corporate interests and the rights of indigenous peoples. Companies need huge territories, but they also need, for example, reindeer herders. The State must be the guarantor of this balance and the guarantor of legality in this region. But instead, it only gives the green light to companies and those who oppose it fall under pressure from the authorities.

Andrei Danilov paints an even darker picture. “To be appointed foreign agent, a trip to the psychiatric hospital and criminal cases; that’s all that awaits an activist in Russia. After this sad conclusion, he must prepare for yet another trial with local elected officials who are not ready to accept without a fight the decision of the Constitutional Court. On the same day, he will also be tried again for “disobedience to the police”. In this case, Danilov tries to appeal the arrest he has already served in the regional court. On his Facebook status, there is a quote from a movie about the Norwegian Sami uprising against the colonialists: “We must speak out even when there is no hope”. This uprising was brutally suppressed, but eventually the Sami achieved a degree of equality. Now no one can set foot in the Norwegian Arctic without their permission. And it only took 200 years.

The Sami of Russia see themselves as the guardians of the North. They don’t believe in owning the land. Securing a piece of tundra or a lake for a family has never meant having the right to use it. Instead, they believe it is their duty to protect and decorate their place in the Arctic. It would be nice if we could learn something from them.

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