Right and responsibility of choosing ethnic identity

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Right and responsibility of choosing ethnic identity

Winfried Dallmann, ANSIPRA Secretariat

Until recently, Russian identification documents contained information of a person’s ethnic affiliation (in Russian: “nationality”, as opposed to “citizenship”). This is now abandoned in all newly issued documents. People have lost the only official way of easily proving, which ethnic group or people they belong to. This may be disadvantageous for those who want to prove that they are members of numerically small indigenous peoples which have benefits. It may be advantageous for those who feel they belong to a different group than the one they are registered to, for example, if one wants to be registered as Udegey instead of something else.

A very large number of Russian citizens have a mixed ethnic origin, often through many generations, and there may occur good and not so good reasons during a person’s lifetime, which make him or her feel to belong to the mother’s instead of father’s, or other ancestors’ ethnic affiliation. This may either be a genuine commitment for cultural, psychological, political or other reasons, or a pretext in order to achieve economic or other benefits.

But with rights normally also come along duties. Assigning themselves to a new ethnic identity makes one people smaller and another one larger in number, especially when many individuals do the same. The overall results will have political consequences. During the census of 2002, which never was officially published, most of the numerically small indigenous peoples showed a sudden increase in size since the 1989 census, most of them by 10-30%, but up to 140% – the latter for the very small, severely endangered Orok people. While it is known that many representatives of these peoples live under very poor economic conditions, are subjected to severe health problems and higher mortality than birth rates, such a statistic increase may be used by the authorities as a pretext to decline from urgently needed measures to support the cultural survival of this ethnic group.

Most of the growing numbers are probably caused by the fact that more and more people of mixed origin assign themselves to the numerically small peoples, which now are focussed on by many political agendas. Also, many fully indigenous individuals, earlier assigning to other ethnicity by convenience (for example, Russian), now have changed both their conviction and nationality .

Another problem that may occur in this context is an ethnographic confusion. The easiest way of explaining this is by using examples: The word Oroch is of Tungus linguistic origin and means “reindeer people”. It refers to a traditional occupation with a strong cultural content. The word is used by many Tungusic peoples with different languages and residence areas. A subgroup of the Evenk people in the Trans-Baikal area call themselves Orochon; both the Orok and Negidal peoples were called Orochi by others; a part of the Even people living at the Sea of Okhotsk traditionally call themselves Oroch; and finally, there is an officially recognised people called Orochi that lives in the southeasternmost part of the Khabarovsk Territory. Due to this usage, for instance, people of ethnographically seen distinct Even ancestry identify themselves as Orochi, although they do – ethnographically – not have much in common with the officially recognised people of the same name. Such circumstances may give rise to confusion about size and geographical distribution of the peoples in question.

Consequently, changing ethnic identity may have severe consequences and should be considered carefully by each and everyone. Being a member of a numerically small indigenous people is much more popular today than it was for most of the last century. It is known that even persons with solely Russian ancestors, possibly due to sympathy or to achieve economic benefits, suddenly assign themselves to a numerically small people, not being aware of possibly rendering their host group a disservice.



Presentation by President V. Putin at meeting of representatives from Northern Territories in Russia
Salekhard, NAO Center of National Cultures, 29 April 2004

Distinguished Friends!
Efforts to study and search for solutions concerning the North of Russia have already started yesterday. I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet representatives of various organisations and associations, and with all those who care for the Russian North. But first of all I want to thank the “northerners” for their efforts, their creativity and of course their persistence, because by not giving in to the extreme conditions, you are working for the good of your country and are achieving success.

At the Presidium of the State Council yesterday, we discussed the type of state policy best suited for the conditions we now face in the North of Russia: a policy capable of satisfying the needs of the day and in turn will make it possible to bring to light the potential and competitive advantages under new social and economic circumstances.

We talked about the great abundance of natural resources and the spacious territory, in other words a unique chance and significant means for a long-term ascent to be felt not only in the northern territories of Russia but throughout our entire nation, while at the same time promoting sustainable development of the northern regions, and an increase in the well-being of the millions of people residing here.

It goes without saying that it has never been easy to inhabit the northern corners of our country: north is north and the numerous problems we are faced with such as the state of the health system, education, and housing systems are felt even more severely here in view of the specific character of nature and climate in comparison to other regions in Russia. They are simply more difficult to resolve.

We are also aware of the disparity in our complicated demographic processes, the inconsistency within the labour market, the biased development in the economy, crises in vulnerable ecosystems. All these subjects were the topic of our discussion yesterday.

It is quite obvious that these existing problems cannot be eliminated solely by redistribution of finances even though this also is a problem to be reviewed separately. And our task is to arrange the work in such a manner that even while the state provides the required forms of state support, new solutions based on effective market mechanisms will be sought. Not only our own experience but international experience is witness to the fact that such solutions are possible and they exist. I also know that there are many who are occupied with this matter in the regions of the North. We have just been to the data bank with the governor at the centre where the entire data on the NAO is stored using computer engineering. A praiseworthy model to be copied by other regions in the country.

I also want to say that if we want to achieve economic development, the federal authorities must first cope with the infrastructure problems in the northern territories. This is indeed a long-term project. Already at this stage, together with the regions we must start looking for mechanisms capable of providing the population in northern territories with access to the blessings of civilisation. There must also be a guarantee that competent and qualified services are available to provide the population in the northern territories with access to all the material wealth of civilisation and which ensures them an opportunity to make use of competent and qualified services in the social, transport, medical and educational spheres.

People living and working in the North must not feel cut off from the country – these people must have a bright outlook, and not just for themselves, but also for their children.

A system is required that operates based on diverse forms of production implemented using natural resources. This kind of policy is directly connected to creating new jobs. At the same time care must be taken to maintain the ecological balance of the northern flora and fauna. We are well aware of its vulnerable nature.

Another question which worries the “northerners” is state guarantees and compensations. We spoke of this also yesterday in great detail, and not without becoming emotionally involved.

The government will continue to execute the social responsibilities it has previously taken upon itself. I should like to confirm this. This deals rather with housing subsidies, “northern” pensions and wages, state housing certificates, and relocation? repatriation? programs in northern territories.

The time has come to renew our economic and legal foundation, the traditional ways of making a living. For the indigenous peoples of the North this is not just a production method – it is the basis of their spiritual being, the very social and economic structure, a preservation of a unique culture of the indigenous peoples of the North. It was a pleasure for me to take a look around one of the settlements. Representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North live there, not far from Salekhard. I must say it was enjoyable to see one of these settlements and how people live in them. Hopefully this was not the only such settlement of this type in the North. We do not have the right to allow the original, national and cultural wealth of all the peoples living here to be lost.

Once again I must emphasise – as I have so often stated – that Russia’s greatest wealth is not even oil and gas but the versatility inherent in the cultures of peoples of the Russian Federation.

I presume that now it is of utmost importance to use the possibilities of the Institute for Territorial Self-governing of the Indigenous Peoples of the North. A basis for this development has been put into the new legislature on local self-government. The municipal establishments will play an especially significant part in the development of the economic, cultural, social and communal spheres. And really, the preparations for this crucial task need to start locally.

We arrive at the final decisions concerning these questions. Not everything has been carried out in full, and here I agree with the leaders of the regions, but in the long run it is we who must make the final decision.

In conclusion I want to emphasise once again: the Russian North – that is our enormous and common wealth. It is a our common heritage that will be of service to our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.

And that is why we must not only use it carefully and in a calculated manner but also strive to augment it.

Finally, the North has always been a sort of rating system for courage, partnership and mutual cooperation. In this place people lived and worked side by side in peace and friendship regardless of the many nationalities and religions. It pleases me to see also at our conference representatives of the most varied confessions. I am quite sure that with such valuable human capital we can achieve very, very much. And in particular let us help the Russian North so that they may obtain a new license for their development.

Thank you for your attention. This is all I wanted to say at the beginning of today’s meeting. I am convinced there will be many interesting presentations.


The official internet – diplomatic corps of the President of Russi

Extraordinary meeting of the Presidium of the State Council of the Russian Federation in Salekhard, 28-29 April 2004
Prepared by G. Diachkova on material from http://sl.yamal.ru/territory/tarkosale/2004/05/07/36zsoflwf3.mtml.

After the speech of the President of the Russian Federation, V.V. Putin, the fundamental report “Basic State policy of the Russian Federation in Northern regions” was presented by the head of the working group of the State Council, President of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Vyacheslav Shtyrov. In his opinion, state regulations are needed to carry out legal acts which fully take into account the specific features of Northern regions: division into districts and state support of numerically small indigenous peoples.

The governor of the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug, Yuriy Neyolov, suggested in his speech that the President of the Russian Federation should create a Federal agency to deal with questions of the Northern territories. It is now extremely important to establish a specialised federal body, which engages in regional initiatives and makes sure that topics concerning the Northern administrative areas are continuously part of the agenda of the central ministries and departments.

During the debate the Governor of the Chukotskiy Autonomous Okrug, Roman Abramovich, put forward the thesis that traditional subsidence branches of Northern, numerically small indigenous peoples do not have a sufficient economic basis, and therefore depend on state support. Subsequently Putin added: “Hence, they demand state grants”. He emphasised that “the biggest wealth in the North is not oil and gas at all, but the diversity of cultures of the Northern peoples”.

After the speech of V. Shtyrov the word was taken by the chairman of the State Duma of Yamal, president of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Sergey Kharyuchi. In his report he led attention to the need to reform the federal legislation, so that it would take into account the interests of Northern, numerically small indigenous peoples. “It is necessary to adopt a number of measures at the federal level. These measures must eliminate gaps in the federal legislation on questions of social responsibility of business and traditional land use. These questions also include the payment of compensations for the damage put to territories of traditional nature management through industrial exploitation. There is a need of support of ethnic communities and enterprises dealing with traditional economies, which must be paid from the federal budget for compensations, stipulated by the federal legislation.” Addressing to the President of the Russian Federation, Kharyuchi said: “We believe that it is necessary to create a state structure focused on solving problems of the North, problems of development of numerically small indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, or to create an institution with special representation of the President on problems of the North. We are absolutely sure that only by means such uniform state body it will be possible to achieve a balanced economic development in the Northern territories and normal living conditions for all northerners, including the small indigenous peoples”. The President consented to Kharyuchi's proposals and asked to direct them to the Administration of the President and the Council of the Federation.

The speech of the chairman of the State Duma Committee of the Federal Council on problems of the North and the Far East, Valentina Pivnenko, to the assembly became one of the most conceptual ones. She supported the previous speaker, Sergey Kharyuchi, in practically all aspects. Valentina Pivnenko especially emphasised the necessity of an immediate approval of the law “On reindeer breeding”. She also suggested reconsidering a system of interbudgetary relations in view of the entire complex of northern problems. She rested in detail on the legislative problems of pensions, premature delivery of perishable goods, migratory processes, and proposed to revive the federal program “Children of the North”.

Concerning premature delivery of perishable goods to northern provinces, the President of the Russian Federation said that in many northern regions of the country this is not a problem anymore, and when it occurs, it is normally the fault of the leaders of the regions.

The President of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), V. Shtyrov, paid attention to the necessity of raising the social responsibility of resource-exploiting companies towards the regions in which they operate. The companies should also worry about the condition of the cities, about the indigenous population, and about the entire complex of infrastructure development.

In the final session of the assembly, representatives of associations of indigenous peoples of the North, representatives of other public organisations, scientists, leaders of enterprises, etc., gave their contributions. A prominent contribution was held by the president of the Association of Polar Explorers, Artur Chilingarov, a man who is familiar with the problems of the North; he also insisted on the necessity to forma governmental body with the aim to solve the problems of the northern territories.

Deputy of the President of the Russian Federation in the Uralskiy Federal Okrug (UrFO), Petr Latyshev, stated that the discussed questions are significant for his territory, where numerically small indigenous peoples reside in four administrative regions. In the Yamalo-Nenetskiy and Khanty-Mansiyskiy autonomous okrugs, regional legal acts and programmes for social and economic development of the peoples of the North have been adopted. In 2003 in the Sverdlovskaya Oblast a 5-year programme of social development for the Mansi people was adopted for the first time. He noted that in spite of the fact that for last years a number of positive social and demographic tendencies among the indigenous peoples in the UrFO are marked, there are a number of acute social and economic problems influencing their development which need to be solved. Among them are the destruction of traditional ways of life and the difficulty of these people to adopt to modern society, housing problems, and a low standard of living. A separate problem is the underfinancing of the Federal Target Programme “Economic and Social Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North until 2011”.

At the closing of the meeting of representatives of northern territories, Vladimir Putin again emphasised that of all northern problems the problems of the indigenous peoples have topmost priority.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (rus. Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин (yordam·maʼlumot); (7-oktabr, 1952, hozirgi Sankt-Peterburg shahri) - Rossiya davlat arbobi. Rossiya Federatsiyasining ikkinchi va toʻrtinchi Prezidenti, sobiq Rossiya Bosh Vaziridir.

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Right and responsibility of choosing ethnic identity

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