Monday, April 29, 2019

Gathering of 36 Reindeer Herders in the Middle of Nowhere Now an ‘Unsanctioned’ Meeting

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Just how absurd and unjust the Putin regime has become has been highlighted by the actions of officials and business interests in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District: they have brought charges against a reindeer herder who met with a handful of his colleagues literally in the middle of nowhere for holding “an unsanctioned meeting.”

            Reindeer herders and fisherman meet all the time, sometimes brought together by accident and at other times by Internet posts suggesting they get together at particular map coordinates to divide up their herds, talk about life and common problems, and sometimes discuss appealing to the authorities about them.

            This has been going on for generations, although the use of the Internet is new. But now restrictive Russian laws and Moscow’s insistence that one size fits all and that regulations that might make sense in large cities are entirely appropriate for people who live far from any village let along urban center.

            It is out of just such absurdities that popular anger grows because it shows just how frightened officials and business interests are of any action they don’t sanction and control, how much contempt they have for the population, and how the powers that be are driven by what they can easily find online rather than by anything else.

            Yuliya Starinova of the Sibreal portal tells the story.  “On the Yamal peninsula,” she writes, “the police have handed over to the court a case about the organization of an unsanctioned meeting that took place at the end of March in the middle of the tundra … At this ‘action’ 36 reindeer herders and fisherman assembled” (

                Eyko Serotetto, who edits the Voice of the Tundra site on VKontakte, called on his fellow followers of traditional ways of life to meet at particular map coordinates. That’s normal now and the only way people can be sure of coming together in the vast unoccupied lands of the Russian North.

                Thirty-six of them with more than 600 reindeer in tow came together to talk about the problems they face in their lives, the depradations that are being visited upon them by oil and gas companies, and their fears about the future, the kind of things all people talk about, and they decided to write a letter to the governor.

            That was too much for Russian officialdom, and the wheels of police administration – one can hardly say justice in this case – began to spin. Serotetto found out two weeks later that he was being charged with organizing an unsanctioned meeting – even though he and his fellows had met like this many times before in the middle of the tundra without any problems.

            He suspects that at least three factors are at work: the authorities’ desire to show Moscow that they are acting on its orders, oil and gas companies who have a cozy relationship with the powers that be and don’t want to hear from the population, and a rapidly declining standard of living among these traditional ways of life.

            Seretotto and his friends are undeterred despite charges against him and attempted interrogations of the others, all of whom refused to cooperate with the police.  They held a second meeting eight days ago at which there were eight people, six dogs, and 600 head of reindeer.  No charges have been filed about that session at least not yet.

            The activist says he plans to hold “yet another meeting. Those of us who live in the tundra always have problems to discuss. Who will come to it? I think, 800 reindeer and about ten reindeer herders.”

            All of this brings to mind Edward Topol’s wonderful novel, Red Snow, about how the reindeer herders supposedly organized to bring down Moscow’s power in the North in Soviet times. Clearly there are some in the Putin regime now who think that such a fictional scenario could become real. At least, they seem to be doing everything they can to promote that outcome. 

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