“When Nenets disappear into million of inhabitants of Arkhangelsk Oblast, no one will hear them”
What the idea of uniting the Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug threaten the small peoples of Russia
The Nenets will fall victim to the unification of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO) with the Arkhangelsk Oblast: the views of the small people will no longer be respected, political expert Andrey Churakov believes. According to him, 92% of the population of the NAO perceived the project of merging the regions with hostility. After a wave of indignation (even local United Russia representatives protested), the authorities postponed the referendum on unification. In the interview with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya, the expert from Arkhangelsk told us about past failed attempts to unite the two subjects of the Russian Federation and transfer all powers from Naryan-Mar to its neighbour. Remembering Shiyes, he also spoke about the specific mentality of the Nenets and local Russians, who are alien to Moscow's initiatives.
“It is unclear who the initiator is. No one has claimed responsibility”
Mr Churakov, how long ago did the project of uniting the Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Arkhangelsk Oblast appear?
To my knowledge, the talks about unification have been going on for 20 years. A serious attempt was made at the turn of 2006-2007. But it met with serious resistance primarily from residents of the NAO. Then, in 2007, in Naryan-Mar, the most numerous (in the entire history of the district) rally took place on the central square of the city. In 2006, my colleagues and I conducted a serious sociological study. According to its results, 86 per cent of the population strongly opposed this idea. After these events — more than 12 years — it was not remembered. And then suddenly two interim [governors] decided that they are so cool that they can solve within three months the problem that the authorities could not even reasonably justify for the previous 20 years.
What arguments do they give in favour of unification?
It is very difficult to comment on this initiative. First, it is unclear who the initiator is. No one has taken the liberty of saying: “Yes, it is my idea.” No one has taken responsibility either at the federal level, or those temporarily acting: Tsybulsky and Bezdudny did not admit that it was their idea. There was a version that it was some political strategists, like Gusev and Matveychev, but they also disavowed this idea. There is no information on the line of the mission. It is difficult to comment on this idea because 99,5 per cent of this initiative is idiotic. In fact, there are no calculations on what this will give to the Arkhangelsk Oblast of the Nenets Okrug. It's because someone came up with the idea: “Let's unite them”. It was just as well to sign a memorandum on the unification of the Arkhangelsk Oblast with the Murmansk Oblast. Or with the Kaliningrad Oblast — however, there is no border with it, additional difficulties would arise.
No one has taken responsibility either at the federal level, or those temporarily acting: Tsybulsky and Bezdudny did not admit that it was their idea
Given that this year started with pole vaulters deciding that they could make changes to the Constitution under the president's watchful guidance, I think anything can be done now. When the president on January 15 in his message “delighted” the country with the fact that you can do anything with the Constitution, I immediately said: “Actually, it's a Pandora's box.” Here is one of the manifestations of the skeleton that came out of this box — the idea of unification. In fact, this is a constitutional change. The Arkhangelsk Oblast and the NAO are two units of the Russian statehood. The state was formed not because Moscow became our capital but because more than 80 federal subjects gathered and signed the corresponding federal agreement to create a country called the Russian Federation. It was signed by the NAO, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Moscow, and all other federal subjects on an equal footing.
But Still, what are the disadvantages of this association of the two regions?
Finally, federal officials in Moscow in the person of Trutnev and Turchak came to their senses. And the meeting that took place last Tuesday, where Tsybulsky and Bezdudny were called, had the goal of giving them a good slap (figuratively speaking). And the whole idea ended well. To get out of this story without a black eye, and somehow save face, they invented the new theory: it turns out that Tsybulsky with Bezdudny drew the attention of the federal centre on the necessity to develop a programme for the integration of these two regions. In this case, it is necessary to develop a programme for the development of all regions. After the liquidation of the ministry that dealt with regional policy, our country generally lives in two dimensions: there is Moscow with Moscow Oblast and the rest of Russia with rare inclusions such as Chechnya or St. Petersburg. People in Arkhangelsk especially felt federal relations when two years ago Moscow suddenly decided to make a 30-square-metre huge landfill, where it planned to take its waste of renovation. Therefore, I think that no one else will have such a desire to sign a memorandum on any associations, especially with the NAO, until 2024-2025-2026.
Certainly, the Nenets lead a very peculiar and unique way of life, like all the peoples of the North. And they know perfectly well that if their independence as a federal subject (the population of the district is more than 40,000) is preserved today, they can come to an agreement among themselves and calmly solve problems
“When the okrug is liquidated, they lose their representation in the Federation Council and in the State Duma”
Why did the Nenets people in Naryan-Mar react especially painfully to this idea?
Not only Nenets. Someone, commenting on this situation, said that this district was created by some oilmen in 1993. Nothing like that! The districts were created precisely in the presence of indigenous small peoples — just like Evenkia, Yamalo-Nenets Okrug. Certainly, the Nenets lead a very peculiar and unique way of life, like all the peoples of the North. And they know perfectly well that if their independence as a federal subject (the population of the district is more than 40,000) is preserved today, they can come to an agreement among themselves and calmly solve problems.
The Nenets remember the development of these territories. How many problems were there? For example, I was impressed by several stories. On Novaya Zemlya (which is even further to the North than the NAO), there lived Nenets from Novaya Zemlya. There were trading posts, representatives of Russian nationality, people from our Pomeranian villages. And when it was necessary to build a nuclear test site there, the military came, and all the people who lived there were put on steamers and taken out. They were settled either in the district or on the coast. Then there was the terrible tragedy: they all lost contact with their lands and almost died out. When a person who leads a traditional way of life is torn from the land, he can no longer live. There were terrible stories — and people remember them. Since the development of these places by oilmen, problems had constantly arisen: they are laying pipes, and the Nenets can not drive herds of deer through them. There was a tangle of problems. Over the past 20 years, everything has settled down in the district, and mechanisms have been developed. Geologists understand local interests, develop and support national interests. But in addition to the Nenets who live there, many generations (Russians, Ukrainians) also have their own psychology — island one. For them, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Arkhangelsk are Bolshaya Zemlya (Mainland). And they live their own lives. And for the same Russians, Ukrainians, such things as hunting, fishing, and picking berries in the tundra are very important.
Over the past 20 years, everything has settled down in the district, and mechanisms have been developed. Geologists understand local interests, develop and support national interests
In 2006, when we conducted a study, they use archetypal terms when talking about their land. All this is at the level of their subconscious. By the way, the authorities cultivated this. When Butov was governor there, I noticed during one of my business trips that every public place has a map of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and the border of the district is marked four times wider than the border of the Russian Federation. Purely visually, they always highlighted their isolation, and this was cultivated.
And now in the district how are things with the Nenets language? Is it taught and is it public in the region?
From the point of view of culture, there is very serious support there. As for education, I can't say. But the Nenets speak the Nenets language. I was a guest of nomadic Nenets, in a camp — they value their past, their culture.
They have corresponding associations, including international ones, which include Nenets living in the district. For example, Yasavey. They are involved in all state and international processes.
Aren't the Nenets afraid of assimilation among the Russian population?
They have their own way of life. In order to graze a deer, you need to be a Nenets. It has been a long time since I heard that there were contradictions in the district in terms of interethnic relations. A small district is good because they always agree with each other.
In general, this association threatens to worsen the lives for the population of the district. This also applies to the curtailment of social and cultural support programmes adopted in the district, including the distinctive culture of the Nenets people
As I understand it, the Federation Council is represented by senators from the district.
Yes. When the okrug is liquidated, they lose their representation in the Federation Council and in the State Duma. By the way, their deputy in the State Duma of the current convocation spoke sharply negatively about this scam with the attempt to unite.
Then what does the Nenets as a small people face this enlargement?
In general, this association threatens to worsen the lives for the population of the district. This also applies to the curtailment of social and cultural support programmes adopted in the district, including the distinctive culture of the Nenets people In general, as practice shows, the experience of associations and enlargements for residents of districts and local peoples results in depopulation and economic degradation.
As for small peoples, the Nenets in the NAO — more than 12 per cent. If a large region is created, there will be only a fraction of percent of the Nenets in it. In other words, they lose their real representation in the federal subject. When out of 40,000 people, they are 12 per cent, then they are heard. But when they disappear into 1 million 130 thousand inhabitants of the Arkhangelsk Oblast plus 40 thousand from the NAO, they simply will not be heard by anyone.
Are you saying that they as a small people will become a victim of this association?
Certainly they will. You don't need to be an analyst, you just need to know arithmetic.
Two-thirds of the population lives in Naryan-Mar and the adjacent village of Iskateley. And the rest of the population is spread over a vast territory
“They took away the authority from the district, tried to execute it and realised that it would get worse”
Does the agreement on the division of powers between the district and the region still apply?
Yes, it's valid. It was signed not that easy. After the history in the late noughties with the merger, there was some period when the oblast decided: “If we couldn't reach an agreement, we will take our powers and execute them ourselves.” They took away the authority from the district, tried to execute it and realizsed that it would get worse. First of all, this is a huge territory. Two-thirds of the population lives in Naryan-Mar and the adjacent village of Iskateley. And the rest of the population is spread over a vast territory. There are no roads to those settlements, and people move either along the rivers, or, like the Nenets, follow the deer. But the most common method is “vertushka” (helicopter). All logistics are very expensive.
Northern delivery is very expensive: it is not easy to provide food in a timely manner. Health care (you can't leave the residents of a separate village without a doctor) is a separate story, and education is also a different story. And there were failures, there were situations at the emergency level. Then we sat down at the negotiating table and signed the relevant document: it was extended two years ago. The distribution of income is comparable: as much as the district receives, the Arkhangelsk Oblast receives about the same amount. If you look at the figures, 17 billion rubles out of 100 billion goes to the district, and the Arkhangelsk Oblast takes about the same amount. The federal budget takes all the rest.
Northern delivery is very expensive: it is not easy to provide food in a timely manner. Health care (you can't leave the residents of a separate village without a doctor) is a separate story, and education is also a different story
You said at the very beginning that 12 years ago, 86 per cent of the okrug's residents opposed this association. What are the statistics now?
I was told 92 per cent — this is the latest figures for the district. Even if we start a serious programme today about what is necessary, I am not sure that this programme will result in serious changes in this mentality. When people have an attitude to some phenomenon or object settled on the level of the subconscious, logic does not work. People begin to feel indignation. The same reaction was when Moscow decided to organise a landfill on Shiyes: they just invaded the archetypes. The land is sacred, it cannot be insulted, our ancestors are buried here. The land that feeds must not be turned into a garbage dump. Moscow did not understand this. I hope that this issue of Shiyes will be finally solved.
How do the archangels feel about the idea of unification?
The residents of Arkhangelsk and Arkhangelsk Oblast will get no preferences. Elementary logic suggests that even if the district joins, and the money that went to the district (those 17 billion rubles) will be in the combined budget, then schools, hospitals, housing and utilities will not close. This all needs to be funded. The financing from Arkhangelsk will not necessarily be cheaper than from Naryan-Mar. The maximum amount that the Arkhangelsk Oblast will receive from optimising the management system is 600 million rubles a year. For an area with a population of 1,1 million people, these 600 million are nothing. Our region has 30 billion rubles of debt, collected by the previous governor, what is more — in commercial banks. Due to incompetent administration, they stopped giving him money from the state budget. Now 4 billion rubles are spent on servicing the state debt of the Arkhangelsk Oblast. How will these 600 million rubles help us?