English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 5, 2001

A business trip to Vorkuta

The Edtorial Office

On November 27–30, a staff member of the magazine editorial offices visited Vorkuta in connection with our publications on the situation of the Vorkuta Nenets (see Nos. 3 and 4) and the vociferous negative response of the Vorkuta administration to those publications (No. 4). We wanted to see things with our own eyes, since information arriving in the newspaper office was highly contradictory.

The administration was indignant at the publications, claiming that they did all they could for the Nenets. The members of the community concerned, mainly several women with an educational background, pointed out the hard situation of the Nenets and the abuses committed in relation to them. What the Nenets migrating near Vorkuta thought of the situation was not known to us. Hence, a member of our newspaper office made his first trip to the tundra, to the Nenets chums (tents). His guide and interpreter was Tatyana Rasulova, a teacher of the Nenets language who was the first to send us information about the Vorkuta Nenets, which aroused the anger of the Vorkuta city administration.

A talk in the Tundra

Judging by the tape record, just after an hour’s conversation the dwellers and the hosts of the chum visited by our correspondent were already singing their ancient songs in the native language.

His hosts confirmed all the bitter facts described in the letters published by us and added some new information. But the Nenets are reticent when it comes to describing their misfortunes. They only answered the correspondent’s questions.

«Yes, the number of reindeer has declined over the last five years. Yes, wolves are of concern to us. No, there аre no rifles because no hunting certificates are issued. And we don’t know how to get them. Yes, my wife died and I remained alone with my children. Yes, young people started drinking heavily. This is very bad. Yes, things got even worse after we would come to the city. They said to Petr Ilyich Laptander in the city: ‘Take away your reindeer’, and he said: ‘Take away your you drilling rigs’. No, there are no rangelands left. In fact, we are allowed to pass through the tundra only after the ‘state farm’ reindeer have grazed. Hence, we have weak, small deer. Also, they send helicopters to the ‘state farm deer’. They bring them everything and bring covers for the chums. No, they don’t send helicopters to us, and if they do fly in, they take away our deer. Or they come in cross-country vehicles and say that they will shoot our reindeer unless we butcher them. Yes, we must study because there are very few literate people. Yes, we must migrate as far away from the city as possible, otherwise young people will become thorough drunkards. Yes, there are some factories. Two of them. But they are either closed down, or there is nothing available there. How are we living? We are living the way we want.»

They have no idea of their civil rights and, even less, the rights of the indigenous minorities of the North. And they lay no claims. Although they can’t understand why they are treated worse than «state farm» people, who are also Nenets. But our interlocutors don’t want to exchange their life for state farm life. They merely want respect – they are on their own land.

Among the interviewees were few who spoke Russian. They spoke the Nenets language among themselves. At the first request of our correspondent to sing an ancient song, the reindeer herders forgot their laments and sang...

A talk in the Vorkuta Administration

Another step forward to clarify the situation was a talk with the deputy head of the administration of the city of Vorkuta, Anatoliy Afanasyevich Zamdedyanskiy. Briefly, this is what he told us.

«The problem of indigenous minorities recently arose in the city of Vorkuta. Until 1996 Vorkuta was a common industrial city.

In 1996 the head of the administration addressed me: «What shall we do? The Nenets came and left 27 children. They say: «We won’t survive with them on the tundra and we don’t want our children to die …»

We immediately established two groups of children of indigenous minorities in the kindergarten. The children were weak and didn’t speak Russian …

We found out who the parents of those children were. They were not citizens of Russia but mere nomads. The Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO) and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YaNAO) are defined as territories occupied by indigenous minorities and they have some special bodies. There are no such bodies in Vorkuta. We started doing something so that people would not suffer. First we determined the children’s age. Can you imagine, at the end of the 20th century a Decree of Aging and Documentation of the Nenets was issued? Over 200 new citizens of Russia were registered. That entailed pensions, welfare …

These Nenets spend most of the time in the NAO and YaNAO.

The reindeer herding farm head Comrade Pasynkov advanced claims. It turned out that the entire tundra was divided among reindeer herders, and after they learned what we did for the Nenets in Vorkuta they would turn to us…

Pasynkov and I were planning to involve these Nenets in organized reindeer herd farming, but we failed – those people are used to living on their own...

After some thought we decided to establish factories where the Nenets were migrating. The factories have everything reindeer herders need. There is a social worker to whom they can turn. A nomad does not go to Vorkuta. He goes to a factory where all his problems are solved – the problems of pension, kindergarten, production. The advantage of the factory is that it solves the problem of retaining people in the system they are used to… If not for the initiatives of the head of the Vorkuta administration Shpektor, there would be four times as many problems with reindeer herders as there are now. An efficient businessman, he created everything himself without budget funds – the kindergarten and factories. In 1997 there were no factories at all; and in 2000, construction started on the fifth factory …

The Komi Republic is not a subject concerned with indigenous minorities. That is, the budget funds are to be redistributed between NAO, YaNAO and Komi. We haven’t managed to do it so far…

Pasynkov and I decided to purchase reindeer meat from them in Vorkuta. But they won’t go to Pasynkov’s marketing centers. The reason? In Ust-Kara the price of meat is 50 rubles, and Pasynkov’s centers give them 20 rubles less. Because there is a state subvention operating in Ust-Kara. Now Ust-Kara is closing down and all those reindeer herders will turn to us. Mrs. Rasulova demands a guest house. Pasynkov does have a guest house. But reindeer herders will come to Sovetskiy and Vogasher [villages]. Today we have been informed that reindeer herders turned up at a new place. We can’t create so many hotels. Why do they come to the Central Square of Sovetskiy? Why don’t they go Pasynkov? Pasynkov is complaining against the administration. The reindeer migration routes are changing. Ecological problems arise. If their reindeer have eaten up all the reindeer moss it will take a long time to regenerate.

But we plan on to organize a meat-processing system . In western markets a ton of coal costs 50 times less than a ton of reindeer meat. An agreement between YaNAO, NAO and the Republic of Komi for redistribution of funds is needed. We came up with a draft agreement. We forwarded Goskomsever a letter with a proposal to include the Vorkuta Region in the formal list of areas of residence of the indigneous minorities the North. But the problem has not been resolved yet …

You shot footage on the tundra where reindeer herders are complaining of their poor life. But you better ask them how much time they have been here. If they say 2–3 years, that is true, but if they say 10 years, that would be absolutely wrong …

For three years we did our best with no funds ».

Regarding the Nenets language teacher Tatyana Rasulova, Zamedyanskiy said the following: «She is exagerating the ethnic problem, but does not stick to working discipline. But this is a court matter».

Judging by the tape recording, the talk was generally friendly and Anatoly Zamedyanskiy agreed with a number of reasonable suggestions by Vladislav Peskov regarding solution to the Nenets problem. Among these suggestions were: development of a Nenets factory service in the Vorkuta tundra; promotion of the community movement; settlement of the problem of the joint use of ranges by «state farms» and private reindeer herders; equipment of reindeer herders with radio stations, kerosene lamps, covers for their chums, assistance in issuing hunting certificates; organization of medical service at factories, disinfections of clothes and equipment, summer migratory school, dwellings for every Nenets clan in Sovetskiy, holding a festival for private reindeer herders and reindeer races with a «Buran» snowmobile as a prize, and many other things.

But Anatoliy Zamedyanskiy justly said that they had no funds to fix all those things, nor do they have a special body assigned this responsibility. Zamedyanskiy was absolutely right when he emphasized that all the above problems could be solved upon the Vorkuta Region being placed on the official list of regions of northern indigenous peoples’ residence. Also required are allocation of budget funds and joint efforts of NAO and YaNAO and the Republic of Komi.

Zamedyanskiy was only wrong in stating that the Nenets in the Vorkuta Region appeared only very recently. To clear up the situation we had to approach a specialist. For the history of the error due to which the Vorkuta administration did not know about the existence of the Nenents in the region, see «Historic-demographical note…» by our scientific consultant (for translation see below).

We also have comments of several residents of Vorkuta sympathetic to other people’s misfortunes, particularly children’s. Those are mostly ladies with an educational background. These women told our correspondents about the hard situation of numerous Nenets families, and pointed out abuses committed in the kindergarten where there are only 12 children, whereas the staff number is 36. The women spoke about a biased attitude to Tatyana Rasulova, who was dismissed from the kindergarten on the grounds of Article 33 of the Labor Code. As a result, the children were left without a translator and a teacher. Both on the tundra and at a meeting in the Sovetskiy village, where a decision was taken to establish a public organization of indigenous minorities, our correspondent could see with his own eyes that people trust Tatyana Rasulova. Thus, the attitude of the administration toward this Nenets language teacher, sincerely concerned with the Nenets’ situation, appears to be irrational.

Nevertheless, human right activists from Vorkuta did not give up hoping for the victory of wisdom and rational actions on the part of the administration. This is one of their statements: «If our mayor receives a law on indigenous minorities he would observe it. … The head of the administration of the city of Vorkuta, Igor Leonidovich Shpektor, is President of the Association of the Cities of the Extreme North, and he wants to be a model mayor. There is a reindeer on the city flag. If the mayor is advised of some effective measures to improve the life of the Nenets, and if Salekhard extends its patronage to some of its people migrating through the territory of Komi, Yamalo-Nenets Okrug and Nenets Okrug, then it would be possible to get things under control».

We also hope that the problems of 253 Nenets who received documents in the city of Vorkuta can be solved. The Association on its part is ready to support a proposal of the Vorkuta administration regarding inclusion of the Vorkuta Region in the list of areas of residence of indigenous minorities of the North and of allocations of budget funds for the solution of their problems. The Association is also ready to promote the search for extra-budgetary funds for the projects assisting sociо-economic and cultural development in the Komi Republic. Let us solve this problem jointly.