Monday, January 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Supreme Court Refuses to Drop Treason Charges against Pomor Activist

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – The Russian Supreme Court has rejected Ivan Moseyev’s appeal to drop the treason charges Arkhangelsk officials brought against him last year and ordered that his trial, suspended in November because of the accused’s ill health, go forward as of tomorrow, the Pomor activist told journalists today.

                The Russian authorities lodged a criminal complaint against Moseyev on June 15, charging him with inciting ethnic hatred against Russians and spying for Norway. Moseyev denies both these charges and sought to have them thrown out by higher courts, but he has now failed in that attempt (

            Moseyev and his supporters maintain tha the charges against him grow out of his public activism on behalf of the Pomors, a sub-ethnos of the Russian nationa. And they point out that the prosecutors’ case was falling apart last fall with one witness repudiating his testimony and another shown to have been in Thailand when he said he was in Arkhangelsk.

            Moseyev, it will be recalled, is the creator of the Council of Nationalities of Arkhangelsk Oblast and a member of the presidium of the oblast’s All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Cultural and Historical Monuments, and since 2011, he has been president of the Association of the Pomors of Arkhangelsk Oblast.

            Those activities have attracted not only support among the local population, many of whom are suffering from the collapse of the local economy and the absence of aid from Moscow, but also from rights activists from throughout the Russian Federation and internationally. The latter support appears to be why he is being tried in a Russian court.

            In a commentary on the “Russkaya narodnya liniya” portal today, Marina Strukova explains how Moseyev and others are tapping into what she calls “the regionalism of despair” and argues that Moscow must take steps to head off this development by devoting more attention and aid to the periphery (

            Strukov notes that “not long ago … a new people, the Pomors officially declared themselves.” The 6500 of them had existed before of course, but until 2002, they had “considered themselves part of the Russian people.”  But in that  census and in the 2010 one, they changed their self-designaiton. Why?

            The reason is simple, she suggests.  On the one hand, members of local minorities have special rights to fish and hunt that ethnic Russians do not, and consequently, some of the Russians have decided to identify themselves as a minority in the hopes of gaining support from the center and bettering their economic condition.

            And on the other, various foreign governments and business interests are interested in gaining access to the wealth of the Russian North, and it is easier for them to do so, Strukova continues, if they can deal with local officials and members of a local nationality rather than with Moscow and the Russian nation as such. Norway is a classic example.

            According to Arkhangelsk historian Dmitry Semushkin, whom Strukova cites, Moseyev’s “Pomor Rebirth Movement was born during perestroiks among local medical students. It was a marginal group. Ivan Moseyev and Antaoly Bednov were its leaders. Their basic idea was simple: “for its rebirth, Pomorya needed to free itself from Moscow colonial dependency and be reborn as the Pomor Republic.”

            These activists, Semushkin continues, “were typical informals of the perestroika period.  Their initiative did not receive any support from the population of Arkhangelsk. At that time, these people did not even identify themselves as being of Pomor ethnic identity. The idea that they aren’t Russians was born in the head of the Pomors later.”

            The Pomors in this regard, he says, followed Siberia where local residents identified themselves to census takers as Sibiryaki.  Why was this allowed to happen, Strukova asks, when it is so clear how dangerous such movements could be: A few activists exploiting popular misery and Moscow’s neglect to get support from “oligarchs or neighboring states.”

            In her view, Strukova says, there is no nationality question in either Pomorye or Siberia, [but] there is the question of the survival of local residents.  Regionalism is the apotheosis of despair” and demands for autonomy or independence “are based on social disharmony” not a long history.

             The “fuel” for this kind of separatism, she says, consists of “unemployment, the corruption of officials, the growth of prices and tariffs, and the indifrrence of the Center to the problems of the borderlands.” If Moscow wants to avoid serious problems, Strukova says, “it must be concerned about all its citizens and not just about the owners of factories, newspapers, and ships.”

            “The norther regions intend to ask the Russian government” to adopt new laws that would give ethnic Russians rights equivalent to those the non-Russian indigenes have, and she asks that the authorities in the center “show an understanding for the aspirations of the Russian northerners” rather than ignore them as they have in the past.

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