Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Karels Gain Terminological Victory But It’s Unclear What That Means

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 4 – The Finno-Ugric Karels, the only nation which gives its name to a federal subject of the Russian Federation but doesn’t have its language identified as at least one official one, have gained an important terminological victory in the new edition of the republic’s strategy document on nationality policy.

            In the previous version of this document, issued in 2015, the Karels were not even listed separately but lumped together with the 130 non-Russian peoples of a republic while the ethnic Russians were identified as the increasingly important majority of the population with more than 75 percent of the total (ocs.cntd.ru/document/465404691).

            In the new version, just released, the Karels are characterized as “the titular ethnos of the republic,” the Vepsy as “an indigenous numerically small people,” and the ethnic Russians as “the most numerous people who have traditionally lived on the territory of the Republic of Karelia” (old.gov.karelia.ru/Legislation/lawbase.html?lid=24333).

            The new document also singles out for mention the Pomors, two other smaller Finno-Ugric groups, and “the Russian Finns” which it says have occupied “a special place in the history and establishment of the republic” (nazaccent.ru/content/32142-v-strategii-nacpolitiki-karelii-ukazali-titulnyj.html).

            Given how much Russifying pressure the Karels have been under especially in recent decades, even this terminological shift is certain to be welcome. But it is far from clear what it means or whether it will encourage the 60,000-strong Karels – and the other minorities in Karelia – to press for more linguistic and cultural rights.

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