Staunton, May 19 – Less than a week after the leaders of the Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Oblast announced plans to hold a referendum on merging the two into a single federal subject (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/amalgamation-of-arkhangelsk-oblast-and.html), Nenets residents have come out against it.
More than 1250 have signed an online petition against the idea – for the petition, see change.org/p/врио-губернатора-нао-бездудному-ю-в-врио-губернатора-архангельской-области-а-в-цыбульскому-мы-против-объединения-ненецкого-автономного-о?recruiter=1078484357 – and more than 8500 have left positive responses to an online appeal (m.vk.com/#p=52029).
The residents say they fear they would lose many of their social benefits if their land were amalgamated with their larger but poorer neighbor, and they point out the obvious: the two are not linked by rail or road and to go to the new oblast center, they would have to fly, an expensive and increasingly chancy proposition.
They also raise the issue of how much support there would be in the new super-oblast for the Nenets language, the only surviving member of the Samodi linguistic group. If it isn’t the recipient of government support, they fear, it too would die. That would contradict Moscow’s proclaimed nationality policy for the north.
Given these issues, they say, a referendum on any amalgamation should occur only after a lengthy period of discussion to ensure that everyone will benefit rather than that some involved will lose – and not, as in the present case, in a hurry-up manner reflecting decisions by the two top officials but not the population as a whole.
The Nenets people are also worried that the distance voting that will be required because most of them live in distant places not connected by road to the center will also for the falsification of the results of the referendum that has been announced. They thus call for their autonomy to be preserved (nazaccent.ru/content/33159-zhiteli-neneckogo-avtonomnogo-okruga-sozdali-peticiyu.html).
In all previous amalgamation efforts Vladimir Putin has promoted, the population of the smaller non-Russian region has opposed merger and been won over only by promises that the new unit and Moscow will ensure that they are taken care of. Having been promised that, most voted for merger. But the promises proved worthless, and the Nenets aren’t taking chances.