Reindeer breeder to pay fine for cutting down 19 trees

RAIPON, 20 July 2005

The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) received a letter from the Bilibino area in Chukotka. Members of the regional association asked for legal consultation concerning an incident in which a retired reindeer breeder, Anatoliy Vladimirovich Rultuvge, was fined. Anatoliy Rultuvge's statement, a few protocols and official decisions were enclosed. From these documents the following picture appears.

Anatoliy Rultuvge is a traditional reindeer breeder who has been herding for many years in the tundra of Ilirney. When he aged and became troubled by illnesses, his activity began to decline and he retired. However, it was hard to get used to a life in the settlement. His pension (3000 rubles) did not cover the costs of urban life so he continued to live, as in his former nomadic years, in the tundra, 10 kilometres from the settlement, in a tent by the nearest stream. But, the problem was that this apparently harmless way of life conflicted with the existing legislation.

The local forester, Ivan Nikitovich Litvinenko, suddenly appeared at Rultuvge’s tent one day. Although the visitor was Russian, he too had worked during the last years as a reindeer breeder and even a foreman. However, he did not arrive as a fellow herder, but as a strict guard of the law who had found out that Rultuvge had broken the law.

Management officials of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug were constantly checking the observance of nature protection legislation and confirmed a number of environmental offences committed by Rultuvge. According to the Forest , Land and Water codes Rultuvge's infringements were the arbitrary occupation of a land area, illegal use of lands in a water-security zone which are allocated for recreational hunting, cutting down of trees around the tent for firewood, etc.

Rultuvge had, in fact, cut down some trees (forest wardens counted 19 stumps) to build his camp and to make firewood. Winters in the tent are cold, and dry branches quickly burn through and do not keep the heat. Rultuvge also stored some traps and snares – how can one survive in the tundra without such tools?

In the end, after checking all relevant protocols and decisions, an administrative punishment was imposed. Rultivge was to pay a fine and give up his “illegal residence”. The trapping tools had been confiscated by the forester during his first visit.

The former reindeer breeder Anatoliy Rultuvge was confronted with complicated questions:

Had he been breaking the law, in fact during his whole life, while carefully living from nature? Are there really no amendments to laws for those who always have lived in the tundra? How to pay the fine? How to live now, away from the tundra and with such a tiny income? Why was he, the single tent inhabitant of the village of Ilirney denied the right to cut trees for firewood, while the villagers with heating were allowed to do it? Why was he a malicious law-breaker who polluted a stream, while others with lorries and bulldozers have already destroyed lots of rivers, lakes and reindeer pastures in Chukotka? Polluted and destroyed so much, that now there is almost no place for the herds to graze. Why do not punish these people, why not force them to restore what they have torn down?

To answer these questions is easy if the problem is approached superficially and formally, but very difficult if one is seriously and conscientiously concerned with the destiny of the reindeer breeder Rultuvge and the future of reindeer breeding in Chukotka, and not only Chukotka.

RAIPON will try to answer the letter from Bilibino with the help of lawyers, but not in the formal way.

Editor’s comment:

(on materials of the article by V.A.Kryazhkova “Right and Custom in Russian Reality: Problems of Interaction”, Common Law and Pluralism, 1999. Pp. 20-22):

Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation says: " The Russian Federation guarantees the rights of indigenous numerically small peoples according to the conventional principles and norms of international law and international agreements of the Russian Federation ”.

Thus, the Constitution of the Russian Federation defines indigenous numerically small peoples as the segment of the population leading a traditional way of life, hence, it is necessary to recognize the customs and traditions of these people. In this case Ivan Litvinenko has ignored the features of the way of life of reindeer breeders of Chukotka, in particular Anatoliy Rultuvge’s right to a traditional way of life.