Comments on the Russian Federal Target Programme “Economic and social development of the small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North up to the year 2010”

Summarised by Winfried Dallmann from comments by F. Donskoy, L. Abryutina and the editors published in “IWGIA Document No. 107: Towards a new millennium. Ten years of indigenous movement in Russia. Copenhagen 2002 (pp. 246-263).” The text of the federal target programme was reprinted in ANSIPRA Bulletin No. 7, June 2002, and can be found on ANSIPRA’s website.

Goskomsever (Russian State Committee on Northern Affairs) circulated a draft of the Federal Target Programme in early 2000. Indigenous organisations and representatives in Russia discussed the draft and concluded that it contained significant weaknesses. After negotiations between RAIPON and Goskomsever, suggestions to further develop the programme were adopted. After the reorganisation of the Russian State administration in May 2000, Goskomsever was abolished and its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Economy and Trade and the Ministry on the Affairs of the Federation, Migration and National Policy. These ministries had not established capacity to work further with the programme. It was approved unchanged by the Government of the Russian Federation on 27 July 2001.

The programme text properly describes the actual situation. Criticism is based on the fact that people who were not familiar with the real problems and their causes developed the programme. Indigenous representatives and competent research facilities were not consulted prior to the circulation of the draft programme. An example for the lacking insight of the authors is that they explain the degradation of the fishing industry in the North, Siberia and Far East as a result of excess of permits and non-observance of environmental regulations, while research at the Institute of Problems the Indigenous Peoples of the North (Rus. Acad. Sci.) has shown that the main reasons are absence of local market sales through mass-liquidation of industrial settlements, rising transportation costs, etc.

The programme is ostensibly aimed at improving the socio-economic situation of the indigenous population, but the proposed measures would in reality only promote the general economical exploitation of the northern regions, potentially at the expense of resident indigenous peoples. Unconstrained exploitation of indigenous lands will continue, without apportioned revenues for the local population. This is the opposite of what indigenous peoples have been fighting for during the past decade: partnership with government and mainstream society instead of continuous paternalism. Measures, which are imposed on the indigenous population by the authorities, and which these people do not feel to be part of, are condemned to fail.

The programme does not even consider the integration of indigenous people into mainstream development: industry, transport, communication, etc. The programme does not take into account the establishment of indigenous clan communities and territories of traditional land use, which the indigenous peoples themselves consider essential for their cultural survival.

Despite previous, similar development programmes (for 1991-95, and up to 2000), the situation has only been more and more aggravated. Some facts about the situation of the indigenous population will illustrate what really needs to be addressed. The following numbers are a few years old; the situation today is worse:

A development programme aiming at reviving indigenous economies must tackle the problem of production limitations and restore government procurement of indigenous products. A thorough overhaul of the health care programme is vital. Along with this, the establishment or improvement of waste treatment and securing of clean drinking water are essential. To counteract cultural disintegration, native-language speaking environments must be created in schools, cultural centres, broadcasting media, etc. Most important: indigenous representatives from the areas under consideration must be part of the programme at all stages, from its development to its implementation.

The present legislation allows for the formation of indigenous clan communities (obschinas) and territories of traditional land use. Especially the latter are by law considered as optional for the regional administrations; the regional bodies should be urged to implement them. These important measures are not even mentioned in the target programme.

Administrative programmes like the present one have previously failed, for instance the programme “Children of the North 1993-96”, where lots of money was spent for other purposes than planned, while the socio-economic situation continuously declined. Those blaming the Russian economy and the lack of money for the fact that nothing changes, express only half the truth. Money is indeed spent, such as for the present programme. The problem is that it disappears somewhere between the authorities and the executing personnel without really affecting what happens on the ground. Already in 1920, the Committee of the North concluded: “To trust the Siberian authorities to rescue the Siberian natives is like trusting a wolf to protect a sheep.” Unfortunately, there is still a lot of truth in these words. To avoid these things happening again, a federal target programme for the development of the indigenous peoples of Russia must be based on partnership principles and delegate part of the action plan and budgetary responsibility to the people themselves and their representatives.