Staunton, June 28 – Claims by Russian officials and some scholars that everything is fine with Russia’s numerically small nationalities are simply not true, with the majority rapidly declining in number and both they are the few that are “growing” being debased and rendered meaningless as separate peoples, according to Aleksand Latkin.
In the current issue of “Literaturnaya Rossiya,” the commentator says that there are no 40 indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, that 24 of them report a decline in their numbers – “a real sign of dying out” – but that in what he calls “a cruel deception,” the remainder report growth (litrossia.ru/item/9069-aleksandr-latkin-po-napravleniyu-k-bezdne).
The latter, who include the Evenks, the Evens, the Chukchis, the Khants, the Nentsy, and the Mansi report growth rates between 0.9 percent (for the Chukchis) to 8.1 percent (for the Nentsy). But those numbers are fraudulent in an important sense given that the average life expectancies in all 40 now range between 35 and 49 and their cultures are being destroyed.
“The spiritual situation of these peoples is SHOCKING,” Latkin continues, as a result of Russian companies running roughshod over the land where these peoples have lived from time immemorial and the creation of a culture of dependency that is the chief reason that the numbers of some of these groups have in fact gone up.
Moscow has set up a system of special benefits for members of those numerically small nationalities. The amounts of these benefits are microscopically small, but the situation of these nations is now so dire that not only do many real members of these nations take them, creating a culture of dependency, but many who aren’t sign up as members to get them.
Latkin cites court cases where people with one grandmother or grandfather was an Evenk have gone to court and force it to declare that they are Evenks, even though they do not have any connection to the nation except for that. After such a finding, they and all their descendants are counted as Evenks, allowing Moscow to claim that such nations are growing.
But neither they nor those who are born Evenk have the chance to pursue their traditional way of life. Instead, they are forced off the land and enter into a state-encouraged culture of dependency which leads to degradation not only of their ethnic characteristics but also of their human ones.
One obvious measure of this is native language retention. In Buryatia, only 180 of 2974 Evenks say they speak Evenk; and only 69 of the Evenks counted in the Transbaikal kray say they do. For the Russian Federation as a whole, only 4310 of the 38,396 Evenks say they speak their native language – and many who do don’t speak it well.
Much of the money that Moscow allocates for these peoples is diverted to other uses by local Russian officials, Latkin says, adding that the only possible way for these peoples to begin to recover, if that is still possible, is for them to be allowed to make their own decisions rather than having them made for the nation by distant Moscow.
IN MEMORIAM: Two days ago, Yurik Vartanovich Aryutyunyan, the head of the ethno-sociology section at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, died. Perhaps Russia’s leading specialist on the North Caucasus, Dr. Aryutyunyan, in sharp contrast to some of his Moscow colleagues, always cared about the peoples he studied and spoke out on their behalf even when that brought him and them into conflict with the central Russian authorities (tuva.asia/news/russia/8711-arutyunyan.html).