“Go, tell it on the mountain …”

Winfried K. Dallmann, ANSIPRA Secretariat

This is not written for readers of ANSIPRA Bulletin. It would be like preaching to the choir. We believe our readers already know what follows here. But there are people all over the world who don’t know, don’t want to know, don’t care. Many have made up their imaginary world without being aware of all the calculated influences that were imposed on them by somebody who wanted them to think according to certain patterns. It’s called propaganda. It is used by governments, companies, interest groups, schools, and also by you and me. It is about influencing other people’s minds so they think like we want them to think.

Propaganda is also used against indigenous peoples. Not only in totalitarian states – even apparently democratic countries can turn public opinion against the support of indigenous peoples. There is this policy of offering people choices, today used especially by right-wing governments. There are, for instance, choices between public social services and private ones, between success and defeat, between truth and lies. A splendid and – seen from the outside – obvious example is present-day Australia under the Howard administration. Lies about the history of colonisation, about the aboriginal cultures, about the causes of the Aborigenes’ miserable situation are officially circulated in the country, as a choice alternative to the truth. Many Australians choose the version that makes them feel most comfortable. The most comfortable version for many white people is naturally that white people must stay in charge of all development in the country. Part of the Australian state policy is to use the high crime rate among indigenous groups as an argument against their self-determination, instead of blaming the state and its treatment of the Aborigines as the cause of the crisis. Things like this keep the Aborigines within a vicious circle.

Propaganda can be used in a consistent way and determine the all-over state policy, like in Australia . It can also be used occasionally or temporarily to achieve certain goals. It can be used by powerful industrial companies, by local administrative leaders, by anybody who holds a key position in society. Examples from Russia are obvious and can be read in most issues of ANSIPRA Bulletin or in other periodicals.

A lot of words have been used in books and articles to explain why some governments and companies want to hold public opinion against the development of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples demand rights to land and water, compete with “modern” industry over rights to resource use. They demand public support and compensation for suffered losses from alienation of their traditional areas, their languange and other cultural values. They stand in the way for the sort of economic development that is preferred by mainstream society. Mainstream society mostly lacks the understanding of indigenous cultures, and so do government officials and business executives. There is ignorance and mistrust. A public opinion supporting indigenous peoples’ demands is regarded as harmful to economic development.

Today people are afraid of terrorism. Terrorism is a real danger imposed from the outside, unpredictable, hitting not selectively, but everybody. Fear of terrorism is real, but it also can be used by governments against anything that appears inconvenient. It is not difficult to turn public opinion against dissatisfied, protesting minority groups, simply by blaming them for allegedly having connections to some terrorist group. This is particularly effective in countries that have been the target of real terrorism because people are more afraid there. Some obscure forces in the US convinced their people – and even their government – about the necessity of attacking Iraq by using the fear of terrorism and they lied to prove it, consequently rendering Iraq one of today’s worst arenas for real terrorism. Fear of conspiracy with an enemy has often in history made states oppress minorities. And let’s not get started talking some African, Latin American or Southeast Asian countries … the list is far too long. Accusing oppressed and fundamentally dissatisfied minorities of planning terrorism can eventually drive those people to open their ears for the ideas of real terrorists. And then the state has a legitimate reason to fight them with all means. Be careful! This is not irrelevant to Russia – it is already happening in the Caucasus . In reality, things are much more complex. But it is a cold comfort to know that.

During the Soviet era, the leadership blamed not terrorism, but asserted that Western capitalist forces stood behind every uprising.

Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world are trying to forge a constructive dialogue with their countries’ governments and mainstream, dominant societies. Some governments and companies are trying, too. Dialogue and openness are important. They produce mutual trust. This is good. It may not lead to quick solutions, but it certainly helps to prepare the road and to keep things from slipping. Russia ’s indigenous peoples have chosen this way, with a varying – reluctant, cautious, absent or good – response from federal, regional and local administrations. Hopefully things will never go backwards. It depends on so many factors beyond everybody’s control.

This is really not written to tell something new to our readers. It is written to make you aware of the necessity to tell it to others! Those who believe all the propaganda without being aware of it. Like the old Afro-American gospel says: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere …” So, please, it cannot be repeated too often. People forget so quickly.