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Protecting Indigenous Groups in Russia

Yesterday Bob blogged about the controversy surrounding Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’s speech to the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples in Siberia. Today there is more in an editorial from the Moscow Times:

While Ilves’ comments are open for interpretation, his clear concern about the preservation of indigenous ethnic groups in northern Russia is well-grounded. One such endangered group lives in the Nenets autonomous district, a top producer of oil and gas. The district has a population of 7,000 indigenous Nenets, whose language is part of the same family as the Finno-Ugric languages. Most Nenets devote themselves to traditional occupations like reindeer herding and fishing, existing at barely subsistence levels as the district’s economy booms on the back of sky-high oil prices. So while their right to study their own language and preserve traditions is more or less respected, their survival as an ethnic group could be in question. If Russia indeed wishes to become a state where the rights of indigenous people are properly protected, it needs to change the way that wealth is distributed so that ethnic groups benefit more from the wealth of their native lands. One positive example that federal authorities could learn from is the Chukotka region, where billionaire Governor Roman Abramovich has invested heavily into sustainable economic projects. The Kremlin would also do well to narrow the expanding gap between the rich and poor. In addition, steps should be taken to fight racially motivated crimes, not only against dark-skinned foreigners but members of the country’s own indigenous ethnic groups.