Sunday, April 16, 2023

‘Nothing about Us without Us’ – Non-Russians Angry at Muscovite Opposition’s Hijacking of Their Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 14 – Two weeks ago, a group of representatives of the indigenous peoples within the Russian Federation released an open letter entitled “Nothing about us without us” to highlight their anger at efforts by Russian opposition groups in Moscow or abroad but from the capital to hijack their issue without showing respect to the non-Russians.

            The open letter, published online at, reads as follows:

Nothing about us without us

An Open Letter from Russia's ​Indigenous and Decolonial Activists

Russia’s invasion of sovereign Ukraine opened the eyes of many to the imperial nature of the Russian state. The expansion of the empire and strengthening of the “russkiy mir” ideology are, without a doubt, the key reasons for the Kremlin-perpetrated bloodshed and genocide in Ukraine.

The colonial and imperial nature of this war, in turn, amplified the voices of indigenous peoples of the lands colonized and appropriated by the Russian state who have been subjected to racial discrimination and other systemic discriminatory barriers.

In defiance of these obstacles, many of us are getting involved in anti-war activism, uniting into foundations and movements and helping conscientious objectors to return home. We also work to fight propaganda in our regions where political repressions often prove to be far more rigorous than elsewhere in Russia, but yet remain largely unnoticed by the general public.

Unfortunately, both the russian regime and the so-called liberal muscovite opposition treat the indigenous activists the same: they either choose to ignore us or try to use us as the pawns in their political games. While trying to be heard by the regime is no longer viable, to the liberal opposition we would like to say: Nothing about us without us

WE, the indigenous and the decolonial activists, DEMAND to be included in all public discussions about our possible futures. We understand that no one ethnic, national or decolonial initiative can solely represent the will of its peoples. But all such movements, without an exception, have an inextricable bond with their peoples and their land, which makes their expertise unique and essential.

The indigenous peoples and/or natives of national republics among us remember our histories. We remember that political decisions made without the involvement of the people in question always brought about political repressions, discrimination and colonial violence. We consider this decision-making model to be undemocratic and deeply vicious.

WE ARE CONVINCED that a simple representation is not enough. Representatives of indigenous peoples, national republics and decolonial initiatives must be included in all decision-making processes and processes of distribution of material and social capital.

We consider the sudden interest in the decolonial agenda expressed by certain representatives of the liberal Muscovite opposition to be a symbolic gesture rather than a sincere act of solidarity and support. We don’t want to become puppet activists whose presence is required for nothing more than a pretty picture. True representation is not just a simple inclusion. True representation means participation on all levels of decision-making. True representation is much more than listing someone with a non-Russian name among your allies or having a person with non-Slavic facial features at a negotiation table.

WE ASK to speak of indigenous peoples without racist tropes, cliches, generalizations and exoticization. Here, we are not only talking about blatantly racist language but also about the words that reinforce colonial hierarchies, including using the word “minorities” when speaking of indigenous peoples or addressing people as “russkie” (ethnic Russians) instead of “rossiyane” (Russian nationals regardless of ethnicity), etc.

We also ask to refrain from portraying the indigenous peoples as mysterious and exotic others who need to be civilized, enlightened and ridden of their savage habits. We love our national dress and other elements of our material culture and ask those in question to do away with appropriating them for the exoticization of content they produce.

WE CALL for solidarity. We ask to show solidarity with us not only through verbal condemnation of, but also by halting cooperation with any entities, organizations, initiatives or individuals (politicians, bloggers etc.) who systematically refuse to follow the principles outlined above and turn a deaf ear to public criticism.

We believe that providing those people and entities with material sponsorship or a platform or amplifying their voices in any other way increases the pressure on indigenous activist movements and makes their representatives ever more vulnerable.

            Now, Leyla Latypova, a co-author of the open letter, says they could see “how representatives of the so-called liberal Muscovite opposition now already having understood how popular the discussion of imperial decolonization is in the West” are talking about but not with minorities and the West listens to them not the minorities (

            The minorities want to cooperate with both the opposition and the West, but they want to cooperate as partners rather than as objects of the attention of those who assume they have the right to decide for them. Hence, the open letter; and hence its appearance in Russian and English and soon in other languages as well.

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