Staunton, August 13 – The Soviet government helped numerically small peoples like the Karels far more than the Putin regime does, Anatoly Grigoryev says; and as a result, his native Karelia is now the most russified non-Russian republic in the country and one is more likely to hear English or Chinese on its streets than to hear Karelian.
In a bitter address on the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, the president of the Karelian Congress says that the situation has become so dire that the Karelians have been reduced to the status of “aliens on their own land” (finugor.ru/news/predsedatel-karelskogo-kongressa-chuzhie-na-svoey-zemle).
Over the last decade, Grigoryev says, this international holiday has passed “almost unnoticed in Russia” because “our bureaucrats only very unwillingly recall the problems and needs of the indigenous peoples and then only once a year.” The Russian state provides them with little support. In Soviet times, the level of government backing of “incomparably higher.”
Regretably, there are “practically no” successes to talk about in Karelia; “only losses;” and “the residents of our republic already somehow have become accustomed to the loss of national specificity.” From the point of view of any observer, the Republic of Karelia is being “converted into an ordinary and faceless oblast.”
One sign of this, Grigoryev says, is that “nowadays ever more often people call the Head of Karelia ‘governor.’ This of course was the term from the colonial past of tsarist Russia, but now this is what the leaders of the oblasts and krays of the Russian Federation are called.”
Another sign is the disappearance of Karels and the Karelian language. At the end of Soviet times, there were several times as many Karels as there are today. Moreover, those who spoke Karelian from childhood are now dying off, and everyone younger “hasn’t mastered the Karelian language and doesn’t want to.”
Given the constant cutback in the amount of Baltic and Finnish languages in Karelia, this is “no surprise,” but it means that “the russification of our republic has become simply beyond imaginging.” Fifty years ago, Karelian and Finnish were widely spoken in the streets. Now, one rarely hears them.
This “russification of a national republic,” he argues, is “an anti-constitutional act.” Both the Russian Federation constitution and the Republic of Karelia constitution specify that these republics exist to support the indigenous and titular nationalities. But those basic requirements are now almost completely ignored.
“In the Republic of Karelia,” Grigoryev continues, “the indigenous peoples now live in their own land as ‘the insulted and injured.’ Such a reality does not have and cannot have any justification.” And the republic authorities who should be most concerned about supporting the indigenous peoples and titular nationality are among the worst violators.
The republic authorities act as if they have done enough for the indigenous people if they organize festivals and dances or “houses of the Karelian language.” Such things are fine, but they touch few people, and “literally a hundred meters from this [facility] is a well-appointed middle school where it would not be hard to find several rooms for the study of Karelian.”
Another problem is that local businessmen and officials sponsor the influx of migrants from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who will work for less money than local people. “In Soviet times, on the contrary, only local people worked on farms.” Now there are Tajiks and Uzbeks, something no one could have imagined.
“Some say that local people are guilty, that they do not want to work,” but that isn’t true, Grigoryev says. “The current political system is guilty” because it “does not think about the needs of local people.” Earlier the situation was different and better, and not only are outsiders coming in but they show complete indifference to the environment.
Earlier, for example, it was “categorically prohibited” to cut down trees in many areas. But now those limits are ignored. To boost production, business and government have built roads to give the businesses access. But at the same time, “the roads between Karelian villages have been allowed to deteriorate into complete disasters,” further weakening the titular nation.