The Estonian nationalist youth movement Blue Awakening calls the wider public to notice the russification policy against many of Russia’s indigenous peoples that has lasted for decades and gained momentum in recent years.
Blue Awakening emphasizes that the Russian ethnicity, being historically confined only to the far western portion of the country, cannot claim to be the sole master of the vast territories subjugated to Moscow’s empire.
“Our stance in support of Russia’s minority ethnicities is not based on their discrimination, minority status or the fact that they’ve been forced into an oppositionary role, but primarily because they’re native peoples who have been living on their land for thousands of years. Their claim to self-determination and liberty deserves to be recognized,” says Fedor Stomakhin, vice chairman of Blue Awakening.
The forced decline of study of native languages of indigenous peoples plays a major role in the russification process. This has become particularly especially accelerated after 2018, when the amendments to the federal law “On Education” of the Russian Federation were passed, hindering the study and teaching of native languages in educational institutions.
Peaceful demonstrations in support of the indigenous peoples have been obstructed and suppressed by internal security forces, a characteristic tendency in Russia. In 2017, demonstrations in support of education in native languages were dispelled by the authorities in Elista, Kalmykia, as well as in Bashkortostan and in Tatarstan. In 2018, leaders of the Ingushetian mass protests were repressed by the authorities.
Neither do the authorities of Russia respect the inherent right of the indigenous peoples to participate in the management of the natural resources in their homelands. On the contrary, the destruction of natural riches and sacred heritage sites is often encouraged. For example in 2018, the inaction of the authorities led to extensive destruction of forests in Buryatia.
Protection of indigenous rights is complicated in Russia due to continuous repressions against organizations striving for it. It is prohibited to establish political parties aiming to represent the interests of indigenous peoples.
Since 2006, following indigenous peoples’ organizations have been prohibited or declared “extremist”:
- Congress of the Buryat People
- Tatar Public Center
- Union Of Tatar Youth “Azatliq”
- Chuvash Society Of National And Cultural Revival
- Youth union “Young Karelia”
- Fund of Repressed Peoples
Anti-extremism laws are also used by Russia to persecute native religions. For example, the holy books of the Mari traditional religion have been declared extremist and prohibited.
Following activists for indigenous rights have been imprisoned or otherwise repressed by the authorities of Russia:
- Vladimir Hamutaev, scientist and chairman of the Movement for National Unity “Negado” (forced to emigrate in 2013);
- Fauzia Bayramova, leader of the Milli Majlis of the Tatar people (imprisoned 2014);
- Rafis Kashapov, leader of the Tatar national movement (imprisoned 2015);
- Bulat Sagina, chairman of the public organization “Buryad Soel” (imprisoned 2015);
- Ruslan Gvashev and Shamsudin Neguch, activists of the Circassian National Movement (imprisoned 2017);
- Oyub Titiev, Chechen human rights activist (imprisoned 2018);
- Angela Matieva and Zarifa Sautieva, spokespeople of mass protests in Ingushetia (repressed 2018);
- Batyrkhan Agzamov, activist of the Union Of Tatar Youth “Azatliq” (repressed 2019);
- Fayeel Alsynov, leader of the organization “Bashkort” (repressed 2019);
- Ayrat Dilmukhametov, Bashkir politician and publicist (imprisoned 2019);
- Batyr Boromannaev and Vladimir Dovdanov, activists from Kalmykia; Badma Byurchiev, journalist; Arkady Goryaev, chairman of the Kalmyk regional Fund of Repressed Peoples (imprisoned 2019);
- Aleksandr Gabyshev, Yakut shaman (detained in psychiatric hospital 2020).
In addition, murders and kidnappings of indigenous rights activists are a common phenomenon in Russia. The authorities have refused to conduct fair investigation of those cases, including the murder of activist of the Circassian Youth movement “Adyge-Khase” of Aslan Zhukov (2010), the murder of Ingush nationalist Muslim Hashagulgov (2018), the attempted murder of a Buryat journalist and founder of the human rights movement “Erhe” Eugene Khamaganova (2015), kidnapping of Ingush activist Rustam lanova (2018).
As a result of the russification, the indigenous activists have been led to desperate actions such as the public self-immolation of the Udmurt scientist and nationalist Albert Razin (2019).
Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, having been signed, among other countries, by Russia, defines as genocide “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including “[d]eliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. The russification policy of the Putin regime is conducted with an obvious intent to destroy the national and ethnical, and in some cases religious, characteristics of indigenous peoples. Therefore according to international law, Russia must be held responsible for the genocide of indigenous peoples.
“Convulsively repressive steps tend to inspire only more desperate resistance. Will the coincidence of circumstances we now see in increased repression and sudden weakening of the central government due to the COVID crisis light up a new national awakening among Russia’s native peoples?” speculates Fedor Stomakhin.