Saturday, October 10, 2020

Moscow Sets Up Registry of Northern Peoples and Gives FSB Power to Decide Who’s In and Who’s Not

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 -- The FSB has been given control of the registry of the numerically small nationalities of the North and Far East who receive benefits from the state and thus allows the security service to determine not only what individuals are members of these nationalities but even what nationalities are – and importantly what individuals and nationalities aren’t.

            Many countries, including Canada and the United States, which give benefits to indigenous peoples maintain such lists to ensure that only those who really qualify get benefits; but the Russian arrangement resembles not those but rather China’s registration system for Muslims in Xinjiang.

            Until now, this list had been maintained by the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, but now that it has been transferred to the FSB, that has some extremely negative consequences (, now translated at

            Not only must individuals prove in court that they are members of this or that nationality, something that requires documents members of such indigenous populations often do not have, but entire nationalities, such as the Alyutors, can be dropped, and those making claims for individual or group membership are more likely to be charged with extremism.

            But this opens the way for Moscow to use its security services against other non-Russian nations as well. While the Russian constitution specifies that individuals are free to choose their nationality, the new arrangement puts in place a system whereby officials can decide whether a nationality even exists and whether any individual is a member of one or the other.

            On the one hand, this change simply extends a system which has existed for some years: Moscow has long arrogated to itself the right to declare which nationalities exist and which do not and which individuals are in fact members of any nationality that the central government says receives benefits (

            But on the other, shifting control of this to the security service means that those who maintain the list have far greater powers to bring legal action against the nationalities and individuals involved, something especially threatening given Moscow’s drive to introduce economic development into the regions where these numerically small groups live.

            One individual, a Saami named Andrey Danilov, who has already been forced three times to try to prove court that he is a Saami, says that the arrangements represent a threat to the survival of these already hard-pressed peoples:

            “Many are already afraid to register,” he says. For them, the process of doing so “is not worth” the benefits of doing so. The difficulties are too great and the rewards too little to justify taking action. For example, one can buy five kilos of fish for 250 rubles (four US dollars) rather than spend thousands to catch them as officials now require those who seek to register as members of a native people.

             Danilov says it seems to him and others that “everything is aimed at eradicating indigenous peoples in Russia. Moscow changes the laws so people will not want to join the registry and that means they won’t exist officially, and the Russian authorities will come and take away the rivers, lakes and lands” the Northern peoples have had as their own from time immemorial.

            Soon “there will be only 100 Saami left. And then they will tell us that this is all our own fault. Obviously, they will insist, we did not want to exist anymore. The registry [in its current form and under the control of the FSB] is very harmful because it inevitably leads to the extermination of our people. It will in the end finish us off.”

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