Staunton, Sept. 8 – Modest Kolerov, the Russian nationalist editor of the Regnum news agency, has demanded that Moscow suppress a 2001 school textbook on the peoples of the Yamal peninsula because it describes the ethnic Russians there not as an indigenous people but rather as relative newcomers, which in fact they are.
Kolerov has the reputation of being an expert on the government’s nationality policy, Prague-based commentator Kharun Sidorov says, “but his demarche in this case forces one to question his competence.” (For Kolerov’s attack, see regnum.ru/news/3354505.html; for Sidorov’s response, see idelreal.org/a/31447493.html.)
The 2001 textbook that has so exercised the Regnum editor is entitled The Mythology, Folklore and Literature of the Yamal is in fact in Russian and has been used for pupils in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades. According to Sidorov, the text simply contains an accurate description of the situation there.
The peoples living in the Yamal “can be divided into the indigenous and the arrivals. To the indigenous belong those peoples which for centuries have lived in the North. These are the Nentsy, the Khanty, the Mansi, the Selkups, the Entsy, and a few others. To the arrivals belong the Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Komi Zyryans, Poles and many others” who came from the end of the 16th to the end of the 20th centuries.
“The Nentsy, Khanty, and Mani study Russia because this is the official state language of an enormous country of which their motherland is a part,” the textbook continues. “However, this does not mean that the indigenous peoples should forget their native language and culture or that the arrivals should not know the culture, customs and habits of the local residents.”
All that is too much for Kolerov. In his opinion, the textbook “contains linguistic signs of provoking racial and national hostility, denigrating national honor and dignity” of the peoples there by declaring that the ethnic Russians are “new arrivals” in contrast to the indigenous Nentsy.
What Kolerov ignores, Sidorov says, is that the facts of the case, Russian law and its constitution, and international law are all on the side of the textbook to the extent that they all make special provision for indigenous nationalities and thus by implication for the presence among them of others that have arrived from the outside later.
But clearly the Regnum editor is exercised by this not only because he is upset that Ukraine has now labelled Russians a non-indigenous nationality but also because he clearly hopes as do many Russian nationalists to do away with the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation.
If the indigenous and typically titular nationalities cannot insist on the status of indigenes, then their ability to defend the existence of such structures will decline; and that, not even so much anger about suggesting that Russians aren’t indigenous to the same region, undoubtedly is what is behind Kolerov’s angst and anger.
In making this argument, the Regnum editor may have pleased Russian nationalists and Kremlin centralists; but he will certainly offend many non-Russians and not only on the Yamal peninsula because his expansive and intemperate language shows what Russian nationalists really think about them and any claims they have to protection or special status.