Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeking to End Guaranteed Representation of Northern Peoples in Khanty-Mansiisk Duma

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – As part of its campaign against the numerically small peoples of the North, the Russian justice ministry has directed the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District to end a quota arrangement that guarantees that at least some Khant and Mansi representatives are members of and thus have a voice in the district legislature.

            And in addition to backing Moscow on this point over what appears to be growing local opposition, Ugra is now proposing to liquidate its Moscow-based Center for the Legal Problems of the Northern Territories as a state enterprise and thus eliminate yet another body that had helped the indigenous population there defend its rights in the face of new development projects.

            As journalist Veronika Zavyalova of URA.ru (an electronic news agency that has had its own problems with Moscow officials recently) reported last week, the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District government has been ordered by Moscow to “liquidate an electoral district” for the indigenous peoples (www.ura.ru/content/khanti/13-11-2012/articles/1036258635.html).

            While the authorities there are not prepared to “cross” Moscow on this, she continues, “the representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North [currently] in the Kh-M AO Duma have taken up the struggle for the preservation of the only electoral where the winning candidates” are always members of “the numerically small peoples” of the region.

            The Russian justice ministry says that such an arrangement violates federal legislation, Zavyalova says, and “observers consider that the government of the region will support” Moscow because “up to now it has not supported the aboriginal population in a single instance matter of principle.”

            The special electoral arrangements were established in 1996 when the Autonomous District became “the first subject of the Russian Federation in which the institution of the representation of native numerically small peoples was defined and put in place,” the URA.ru journalist notes.

            As a result of this arrangement in which the Khanty and Mansi have alternated in office, the numerically small nationalities have had a voice concerning “all legislative projects which immediately touch on the rights of interests” of these communities, and most importantly, they have it officially before the legislation is approved.

            Everything was working well, but in February 2011, the Russian justice ministry sent the District a letter stating that “according to Russian legislation, subjects of the Russian Federation cannot establish quotas for the representation of numerically small peoples in the legislative bodies of the region.”

            The Khanty-Mansiisk Duma prepared a new draft law on elections which ended the previous arrangements guaranteeing ethnic representation over the vocal objections of the Khanty and Mansi and the complaints of many ethnically Russian deputies that Moscow was behaving in an unconstitutional and high-handed manner by disbanding something that works.

            In short, Moscow is getting its way but not without alienating both the ethnic minorities who had counted on this special arrangement and local ethnic Russians who don’t want the center telling them how and what to do. Given the attention that URA.ru reports often get, this story is likely to spark discussions in other subjects of the Russian Federation in the future.

            Today, URA.ru’s Zavyalova reports that the Khanty-Mansiisk government is set to take yet another step against an institution that has long helped the numerically small peoples of that region: Officials say they are considering “liquidating the Center for the Legal Problems of the Northern Territories (www.ura.ru/content/khanti/20-11-2012/news/1052149875.html?from=gr).

            The Moscow-based center was established at the behest of Sergey Sobyanin in 1996 to provide a means for the numerically small peoples to comment directly on all federal legislation and actions affecting them. Now institution too appears to be near its end, thus eliminating an important channel of communication between the Russian government and these minorities.

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