Monday, November 12, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Pomor Case Raises the Question: Is Advocating Real Federalism Now Treasonous in Russia?

Paul Goble
                Staunton, November 12 – The start of the trial in Arkhangelsk of Ivan Moseyev, the director of the Pomor Institute of Indigenous and Numerically Small Peoples of the North, for inciting ethnic hatred and treason in favor of Norway, was postponed today because of the illness of the accused (

            But the charges, which many observers are calling truly “Orwellian,” have sparked widespread attention and condemnation both inside and outside of Russia (See, for example,,,,,, and and have simultaneously raised questions about the Kremlin’s nationality policies and sparked new interest among some non-Russians in seeking independent statehood.

            An article posted on the today both reviews the case and helps to explain why it is radicalizing opinion among non-Russians.  As the site reports, Moseyev has been accused of “thought crimes” that could lead, if the Pomor activist is convicted, to his imprisonment for up to 20 years (

            Moseyev apparently attracted the attention of the authorities in Moscow not only because he called for the recognition of the roughly 7,000 Pomors as an indigenous people, something that would gain them certain kinds of state aid, but also cooperated closely with Norwegian officials across the border and even “dreamed about the establishment of a Pomor Republic.”

            (According to a report in “Russkoye obozreniye,” the Russian FSB became interested in the Pomors in June of this after “Kommersant-Vlast’” published an article about Moseyev. On June 25, officials searched his apartment, confiscated his notebook, and tapped his phone line (

The Moseyev case must be viewed in the context of the recent wave of Russian laws and proposals that represent “a frontal attack on federalism,” says.  “Regional organizations conducting joint projects with foreign partners are declared ‘foreign agents.’” And some Moscow politicians have even called for the abolition of the non-Russian republics.

Most recently, over the weekend, it was reported that the Russian Justice Ministry has suspended the activity of the Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, a group that has extensive ties with Arctic peoples in Scandinavia and North America (

“Clearly,” the site continues, “the Russian Federation as ‘the legal successor of the USSR’ is without deviation repeated [the former state’s] path.  The Soviet Union also nominally called itself ‘a federation,’ but in reality it was a harshly centralized unitary state where any independent social activity was denounced as ‘a betrayal of the Motherland.’”

If Moscow continues on its current path, the site suggests, the end of the Russian Federation is “inevitable” because its “citizens will simply cease to consider this single camp with a totalitarian ideology to be their Motherland.”

“A contemporary and vital federation is based on regional and cultural diversity,” the site adds, and no one living in a genuine federation sees ethnic advocacy of cross-border cooperation as treason.  “In the US, no one is afraid that Alaska will secede and join Canada (or Russia). And in the Federal Republic of Germany there are several self-administering Euroregions.”

Only in the country that calls itself “the Russian Federation” is “such crossborder interaction” viewed with suspicion. It is clear from this if from nothing else that “the Russian powers that be [today] still live in the USSR.”

The central government in a genuine federation, the site argues, “should on the contrary do everything it can to support and develop crossborder cooperation projects, by establishing an attractive image of the Pomor Region so that even the Norwegians with their high taxes will envy it and will build their enterprises there.”

Unfortunately, “the stereotypes of ‘the cold war’ and ‘the besieged fortress’ still operate in Russia,” and to support “this ‘patriotic’ struggle,” show trials like the one being conducted against Moseyev are needed, a point even some Russian officials concede (

Such trials are intended to intimidate, and they may do so in some cases. But in this one and any others like it that may follow, Russian officials appear to be falling into exactly the same trap as their Soviet predecessors, radicalizing the very people they hope to silence (

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