Russia’s Northern Peoples again look abroad for policy ideas
Archived Articles 27 Sep 2006 Paul GobleEWR
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VIENNA – Members of the numerically small peoples of the Russian Arctic, groups who continue to be disproportionately victims of central government policies, are one again turning their attention to the arrangements Northern peoples in other countries have made with their governments in order to survive in the 21st century.
The untrammelled development of the North both in Soviet times and more recently, A.A. Maksimov writes in a new study of the region, has hit the numerically small peoples of the North far harder than it has the other peoples of the Russian Federation (
In addition to overwhelming the small groups with an influx of ethnic Russians and others, this policy led “on the background of the general lack of well-being in Russia” of “estraordinarily high levels” of unemployment, mortality, alcoholism, suicide, and infectious diseases” among these Northern peoples.
Still worse, Maksimov continues, even now, the peoples of the North “do not have adquate mechanisms for the expression and realization of their interests,” and consequently, they are often unable to force Moscow to live up to its often “contradictory and [simply] declarative” laws regulating their lives.
And that situation in turn is exacerabated by the lack of concern most Russians show to the problems of the peoples of the North and the interests of major corporations and the Russian state in the exploitation of the immense natural resources in the lands where these people have lived for centuries, even millenia.
As a result, the intellectual elites of the numerically small peoples of the North are increasingly examining how Arctic peoples living in the Scandinavian countries, Greenland, Canada, and the United States are interacting with the governments of those countries in order to advance their rights.
Maksimov’s article includes a survey of Russian and Western studies of these policies, some of which like the Canadian government’s relationship with the Nunavut appear to be successful and a possible model for the groups in Russia and others of which have been less successful and thus are less likely to be copied.
But in summing up his 6,000-word article, Maksimov says that “the most important thing for the Northern peoples are not programs, not the invention of new structures for the resolution of particular problems (such as alcoholism, health, education, and so on), and not simply the acquisition of land rights and particular powers.”
Instead, what matters are people “who see that the state respects thieir individual and collective rights, who believe that their children will live, knowing that ‘life has meaning, that they are valuable’ and worthy of love and respect, that they have the keys to their own future and all the possibilities of a society of equals.”
Such a faith, he suggests, has animated many of the movements of Artic peoples outside of the Russian Federation, but unfortunately, few of the members of the numerically small peoples living within that country share that optimism. And unless they are able to gain it against all odds, the future for them will be bleak.  
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