Staunton, February 25 – In addition to all the threats the numerically small peoples of the Russian North have long faced, they now face three new and especially dangerous ones: gerrymandering to ensure they won’t be represented in legislatures, radical cuts in funding because of the economic crisis, and the introduction of ever more outsiders into their best lands.
Indeed, the situation has become so dire that in the last case, the Sakha have taken the remarkable step of appealing to their “brother Turks” around the world to block Moscow’s plans, a particularly brave and even provocative step in the context of the current tensions between Russia and Turkey.
First of all, with the restoration of single mandate electoral districts, Moscow officials have used gerrymandering to ensure that pro-Kremlin rural voters will be in a position to outweigh anti-Kremlin urban ones; but now, this same tactic is being deployed within regions to weaken non-Russian minorities.
In the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District, numerically small indigenous peoples are complaining that the way officials have drawn electoral district lines there, such groups will have little chance of winning elections and called for the lines to be redrawn (znak.com/2016-02-24/predstaviteli_kmns_zayavili_ob_uchemlenii_interesov_na_vyborah_v_dumu_yugry).
Second, just as has happened with minorities in Russia elsewhere, the economic crisis has hit the numerically small peoples of the North especially hard not only because of the general principle of “last hired, first fired” that has hurt other non-Russians but because their small numbers mean that they are an easy target for budget cutting.
The cutbacks have been so severe that even Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, has complained. He says that Moscow devoted 600 million rubles to these peoples in 2009 but only 202.5 million rubles last year. Given the collapse of the ruble, the real cutbacks are even greater (ria.ru/society/20160224/1379787681.html).
And third, Moscow’s plans to send ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians to the Far East have sparked complaints and protests from non-Russians there who say that the Russian government’s constant talk about “limitless land” for such people is a deception (kyk-byre.ru/1932-yakutyane-mitinguyut-protiv-besplatnoy-razdachi-zemli-v-svoem-regione.html).
In Yakutsk, despite sub-zero temperatures, Sakha residents came out to protest and to point out that in fact, only nine percent of the territory of their republic is suitable for such resettlement -- 66 percent in mountainous and 25 percent is permafrost – and that is the land where the local people live. Thus talk about “limitless” land is dangerous nonsense.
The protesters adopted an appeal to their “Brother Turks!” asking the latter to help them pressure Moscow into backing down from an action that would lead to a change in the ethnic mix of their republic and threaten their survival as a distinct national community (sakhapress.ru/archives/206874?f=n&p=26 and vk.com/turk_birligi?w=wall-21242429_809241).