Window on Eurasia: A Cry of Despair from Two of Russia’s Smallest and Most Oppressed Nations
February 12 – The Izhors and Vots, two of the smallest and most oppressed
nations in the Russian Federation, have issued what may be their final cry of
despair against Russian plans to develop a port and industrial center on places
that have been their lands from time immemorial, a policy they fear could
result in the final disappearance of their peoples.
letter to a Finno-Ugric organization in Estonia, Anatoly Zaytsev, the chief of
the Soikula Izhor Community, and Ekaterina Kuznetcova, the director of the
Votic Society, say that the Russian authorities say they are committed to
protecting the rights of minorities but that “unfortunately,” they are
violating their own laws and threatening the existence of these groups.
small communities, they say, have begun to recover from the depradations of the
Soviet and tsarist past, thanks to the assistance of Estonian and Finnish
activists, but now, despite Russian law and despite the protests of Finno-Ugric
groups, the construction of a new port at Ust-Luga in Leningrad Oblast and
businesses there could derail this process.
groups have been fighting Russian plans for the business development of their
region for seven years, but their appeal to the broader Finno-Ugric world of
which they are a part suggests that they truly feel desperate. (For those who
would like a copy of the appeal, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
people know about either of these small ethnic communities or their complicated
histories, and perhaps few care about their assimilation into the ethnic
Russian nation. But the disappearance of a nation just like the disappearance
of a species diminishes everyone. At the very least, these peoples deserve
attention and their passing more than simple regret.
Izhors, the larger of the two, numbered several tens of thousands in the 19th
century and were in fact increasing in number until the 1920s. Also known as
Ingrians or Karelians, there were 26,000 of them recorded in the 1926 Soviet
census, but their numbers have plunged since then, the result of war,
deportations, and official policies. Now, there are only a few hundred, and
many do not speak their native Finno-Ugric tongue.
Izhor rural Soviets and Izhor language schools in the USSR from the 1920s to
1937, but in the latter year, the soviets were disbanded and the schools
closed. During the war, some Izhors went to Finland, but after 1945, Moscow demanded
their return and deported them into the Russian interior. Moreover, Russian
officials actively discouragedIzhors to
register as Russians and declare Russian as their native language (eki.ee/books/redbook/izhorians.shtml).
Vots or Vods have always been an even smaller group. There were only 705 of
them counted in the 1926 census, 62 in 1989, and there are only a few dozen
now, many of whom do not speak their native language.They did not get the support that the Soviet
initially provided to the Izhors but they wer subject to all the oppression that
the other group has suffered (eki.ee/books/redbook/votes.shtml
the note of desperation in the joint appeal suggests, many of the surviving
members of this community fear that business development will be able to
complete what the Soviet state was never able to – the complete extinction of
their peoples after more than a millennium of history of national existence.
despite that, some activists from the two groups, even if they do not themselves
know their national languages, believe they can help their peoples survive by
promoting a knowledge of their nations via the Internet and attracting the
interest of Finno-Ugric peoples and others to their cause (geo.1september.ru/view_article.php?id=200700508 and vk.com/club1788269).