Friday, October 20, 2017

Taymyr Regionalism Only One of Ethnic Challenges New Governors Face, Survey Suggests

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 20 – Many have focused on the reasons behind Vladimir Putin’s replacement of 11 governors in recent weeks and on the challenges the new men face in meeting his expectations in dealing with economic problems immediately and preparing their regions for the upcoming presidential elections.

            But now the Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalists has compiled a list of the nationality problems many of them will face in their new positions, problems that could have serious consequences for their ability to meet Putin’s demands and that in some cases could lead to serious instability (

                Four of the 11, the ethnic journalists say, face serious and immediate problems. Three others are confronted by problems that could become serious. And four more, overwhelmingly ethnic Russian oblasts, might appear to be insured against such outcomes; but to ignore ethnic issues there would also be a mistake. 

            The change in Daghestan, the most Islamic and multi-ethnic republic within the borders of the Russian Federation has attracted the most attention. On the one hand, for the first time in 50 years, an outsider rather than an Avar or Dargin has been put in charge. And on the other, the new man, Ramazan Abdulatipov has said he will no longer support nationality quotas in government positions.

            That alone threatens to spark problems even if ultimately it is the only way to overcome the strength of the clans that have long dominated that North Caucasus republic. But there are two other serious problems Vladimir Vasilyev, a Russian-Kazakh, will have to address in the very near term.

            Conflicts over land, all of which are invested with ethnic meaning, are heating up again. And Makhachkala has pointed out that “more than half of the languages of the peoples of Daghestan are at the brink of extinction” (, an acknowledgement that by itself will stir passions.   

            Primorsky kray presents its new governor Andrey Tarasenko with a different but equally serious challenge: Historically populated by Ukrainians and a large number of numerically small indigenous peoples, it now faces the prospect of being inundated by ethnic Russians under Putin’s “far eastern hectare” program, which gives a hectare free to those who move there.

            The program has no protections for the indigenous peoples who fear they will be overrun and their traditional way of life destroyed.  Many of them have organized to protest this Moscow notion, and they have picked up support from other indigenous peoples elsewhere in the Russian Federation.  What happens in Primorsky kray will thus affect large swaths of the country.

            In Samara oblast, an outsider has been appointed, Dmitry Azarov, and he must cope with the fact that his predecessor Nikolay Merkushkin, in office in Samara for five years, had brought with him from Mordvinia where he ruled the previous 17 an entire team that will have to be rooted out if the new man is to put his stamp on things.

            That won’t be easy to do without sparking conflicts ethnic and otherwise.

            And in Krasnoyarsk kray, the new man, Aleksandr Uss, will have to try to find a way to deflect efforts by the residents of the former Taymyr (Dolgano-Nenets) Autonomous District to split off from his fiefdom, efforts that have been going on since Putin forced the amalgamation of the small non-Russian federal subject with a larger and predominantly Russian kray.

            In three other federal subjects, there will also be some problems: Omsk Oblast has a significant ethnic Kazakh diaspora and numerous ethnic Russians. The Nenets Autonomous District has the problems of the numerically small peoples of the North to deal with. And Pskov Oblast must deal not only with the Finno-Ugric Seto people but the problems of ethnic Russians as well.

            Gubernatorial changes have also occurred in four other, predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts, Ivanovo, Oryol, Nosobirsk, and Nizhny Novgorod.  Many might assume there are no ethnic problems there, but Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, suggested otherwise.

            On the one hand, mono-ethnic regions are often the most explosive when outsiders come in as migrants because they have no experience in tolerance of minorities. And on the other, he argues, “mono-ethnic regions” are often places where the strongest nationalistic ideas are first to emerge.   

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