Staunton, September 24 – Like its Soviet predecessors, the Putin regime has adopted three strategies in dealing with the non-Russian quarter of the population: increasing repression, divide-and-rule efforts within these communities and among them, and suppressing the dissemination of information about their plight.
But these strategies are proving less effective than they once were, the result of both the willingness and ability of their co-ethnics abroad to speak out about what Moscow is doing and the heroic efforts of the leaders of these suppressed nationalities not only to denounce the Russian government’s actions but also to work together.
This week, Scandinavian and Baltic leaders denounced what Putin is doing with regard to Russia’s indigenous populations. Aili Keskitalo, president of the Norwegian Sami Parliament, told the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in New York that Moscow’s efforts to block representatives of the numerically small nations from taking part only called attention to “the alarming situation” those peoples now face.
Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, and Estonia’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, both of whom are members of nations linked to the Finno-Ugric nations inside the borders of the Russian Federation, echoed those concerns about what Russia is doing and trying to hide (barentsobserver.com/en/politics/2014/09/alarming-situation-indigenous-peoples-russia-23-09 and president.ee/en/official-duties/speeches/10587-president-ilves-at-the-united-nations-world-conference-on-indigenous-peoples-22-september-2014/index.html).
Because of their prominence and because this meeting is taking place under UN auspices in New York, their comments have attracted some attention. But equally important developments in this regard have been taking place among non-Russian groups inside the Russian Federation this week.
Two are particularly worthy of note. Yesterday, the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs) posted on its website an appeal to Moscow to “stop the political repression” of the Crimean Tatars, actions which it said resembled those around “the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944” (nazaccent.ru/content/13255-vsetatarskij-obshestvennyj-centr-prizval-prekratit-travlyu.html).
“The authorities may not like the political views of the leaders of the Mejlis,” the declaration says, “but political repressions against a public organization are a crime” and thus impermissible.
And four days ago, representatives of the Tatar, Bashkir and Chuvash nationalities met in the town of Arsk in Tatarstan as part of the First Congress of the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation and issued a stinging indictment of what Moscow is doing against their peoples and other non-Russians (tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2014/09/i.html).
Declaring that Moscow is failing to live according to the provisions of the 1993 Russian Constitution regarding the non-Russian peoples, the delegates issued three demands. First, they called for Moscow to allow all non-Russian republics and formations to keep the office of president if they want to.
Second, they demanded that the Chuvash Republic be allowed to restore the provision of its own constitution which specified that Chuvashia is “a state within the Russian Federation.” Earlier, Moscow had insisted that that language be eliminated.
And third, they asked that all indigenous peoples have the right to education in their native languages at all levels and not just within officially recognized republics but wherever they live in compact groups and that such instruction be funded by the Russian government rather than by private groups.
The resolution was signed by leaders of the Tatar Patriotic Front Altyn Urda, the Tatar Social Center, the Tatar Youth Union Azatlyk, the Chuvash Ireklekh Society of National-Cultural Rebirth, the Bashkir Human Rights Movement Kuk Burye, and the Council of Aksakals of Bashkortostan.
Their demands are not radical, and their numbers are not large, but cooperation among these groups provides the basis for greater activism and attention in the future. At the very least, it is an indication that the old Moscow policies of hiding the truth and divide-and-rule aren’t going to work as well in the future as they did in the past.