Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Window on Eurasia: A Small Nation Takes on Big Players in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 16 – Big business interests backed by the Russian government over the last two decades have routinely run roughshod over small ethnic communities in order to seize control of valuable natural resources. But in a case that could set a precedent for other nations, the business-force structure combination may have met its match with the Evenks.

            Two weeks ago, Russian interior ministry officials swept down on the jade mining operation of the Dylacha Evenk community in the Bauntov Evenk District of Buryatia, seized their documents, arrested two Evenks, one of whom has disappeared, and said that a Russian company would be in charge (etno-radio.ru/id3625).

            According to a document posted on the Russian Interior Ministry website, officers of the Main Administration for Economic Security and Combatting Corruption from Moscow together with their collegues in Buryatia had determined tht the Evenks had stolen more than 20 tons of jade, illegally exported it, and harmed the state to the tune of 600 milllion rubles (18 million US dollars) (www.mvd.ru/news/show_114227/).

            The Evenks had committed these crime, the Interior Ministry continued, by using falsified maps which incorrectly gave them control over the site of a mine. By intervening, the site continued, Moscow had returned this area to a Russian company, for which the Evenks may now be permitted to work.

            Given that the Evenks number fewer than 35,000 and that they live far from Moscow, this “raider”-type operation might have passed completely unnoticed, with the Russian company and its Russian force structure helpers achieved their goals without attracting anyone’s attention.  But that is not what has happened.

The Evenks did not stay quiet. They turned to the media, began collecting signatures on an appeal to President Vladimir Putin, reached out to members of other often-victimized small nations in the Russian Federation, and perhaps most important travelled to Moscow to make their case about what they are convinced is discrimination (www.baikal-daily.ru/news/20/54620/).

In Moscow, they secured the support of Boris Titov, the business ombudsman of the Russian government, and the agreement of the Social Chamber to hold hearings and send a commission of inquiry to investigate what the Russian interior ministry officials had done in Buryatia (raipon.info/component/content/article/1-novosti/3481-2012-10-16-10-18-21.html).

But more important both for their own fate and for the likely impact of this official action on the future, the Evenks reached out and secured the support of Evenks living elsewhere in the  Russian Federation and also of leaders of other nations there who have also been victimized (raipon.info/component/content/article/1-novosti/3476-2012-10-15-06-32-47.html).

The response of these other numerically small peoples has been impressive because, as Pavel Sulyandziga, the leader of their most important inter-regional organizations, puts  it, “the representatives of other numerically small peoples of the North will not throw their brothers in misfortune” (raipon.info/component/content/article/1-novosti/3462-2012-10-10-15-04-40.html).

            Tomorrow, the Social Chamber investigation group begins its work in the Evenk region, but instead of working to calm the situation, Russian officials there appear to be making things worse by using this occasion to impose new restrictions on the traditional hunting rights of the Evenks (www.peoples-rights.info/evenkijskoj-obshhine-chtoby-oxotitsya-nuzhno-dokazat-chto-oni-evenki/).

             That response has only added fuel to the fire, and elders of the Evenk community have now said that unless Russian officials reverse course and return their mines to them, they are prepared to take the last step that Russian law allows: they have announced that they “will go all the way to the Stasbourg [Human Rights] Court.”

            If the Evenks succeed in whole or in part in any part of this process, their victory will certainly become a model for other groups. But if Russian and Buryat officials working hand in glove with Russian business block them, then the Evenks and the others may choose more radical ways of achieving their goals.



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