Staunton, July 24 – The Estonian national movement in the last decades of the Soviet occupation initially took the form of ecological protest, grew into one focused on historical preservation, and then became a national liberation movement that culminated in the recovery of Estonian independence in 1991, Vadim Shtepa says.
Now, in many ways, people in the Finno-Ugric Komi republic appear to be on their way to retracing that path, the Russian regionalist says, although there are some important differences between the two movements (epl.delfi.ee/arvamus/komide-fosforiidisoda-moskva-prugi-lammutab-venemaad?id=86853009; in Russian at region.expert/komi-eesti/).
For the last few months, Shtepa continues, the Komi republic has become “one of the most socially-active regions of Russia,” with protests taking place “practically in every city.” And what is more, in contrast to most other regions, the protesters aren’t appealing to Putin for aid but rather calling for his ouster.
The proximate cause of these protests is the plan of the imperial center to dispose of trash from Moscow in the northern regions of the country and to do so in ways that will lead to “an ecological catastrophe for all the northern regions and the White Sea.” Moscow expected it could do what it wanted in the north without protest, but it was wrong.
In fact, “protests of the Northerners have turned out to be even more active than those in the Moscow region” who forced the center to look further afield. And “more than that,” those protesting in the North have added political demands to environmental ones, albeit in varying degrees.
Protesters in Arkhangelsk oblast continue to march under the Russian flag, something which “looks strange given that the trash whose arrival they oppose come precisely from the capital of Russia. “But in the Komi Republic, the situation is different.” They not only use the official republic flag but have come up with a Scandinavian-style one of their own.
According to Shtepa, “ecological protests have come together with the struggle for the sovereignty of their republic.” That struggle involves recovering control over the regional authorities which are now appointed by Moscow rather than elected by the people, Komi activist Nikolay Udoratin says.
But there are two aspects of the Komi movement which may strike many familiar with the Estonian one as “paradoxical.” On the one hand, the Komi movement is closely allied with local KPRF deputies who stand against the center even though their party is aligned with the Kremlin on most issues.
And on the other, as Udoratin points out, “’the line of the front’” in Komi does not follow ethnic lines. The Komi aren’t cooperating with those who are openly Russian nationalist and completely loyal to Moscow but they are with ethnic Russians who also want to protect the land on which they live.
This second fact is less paradoxical than it may appear at first glance. For much of the Estonian national movement – and that of the Latvian and Lithuanian ones as well – a remarkable number of ethnic Russians in those occupied countries supported the Baltic aspirations, even if Moscow and Russian nationalists did not.
The Soviet government tried to undercut that by organizing the so-called Interdvizheniya movements; but those never had majority support among ethnic Russians in the Baltic republics, evidence if evidence is needed that national movements at least at their initial stages need not be as ethnically exclusive as many think or project back on the past.