On November 12, in the village of Lovozero in the Murmansk region, a public discussion was held on a project for the reorganization of the Seidyavvr nature reserve.
The Seydyavr State Nature Reserve — with a total area of 17,972 hectares — was founded in 1982 by the decision of the Executive Committee of the Murmansk Regional Council of People’s Deputies in order to preserve the natural environment, natural landscapes and cultural sites of the Murmansk region.
Valuable game animals and their habitats are protected on the reserve, along with important historical and cultural sites of the Saami people. Located within the boundaries of Seydyavr is Lake Seydozero, a unique landmark of the Murmansk region.
Three forms of whitefish inhabit the lake and spawn at different times of the year, ensuring a steady supply of fish. On the slopes of the mountains surrounding the lake there are unique mineral deposits. Certain endangered lichens, mosses and vascular plants grow here.
In the Seydozero valley, there are several sites of historical and religious significance to the Saami people. Saami legends say that a giant named Kuyva lived in ancient times in the Lovozero tundra. Kuyva robbed and killed the Saami, for which he was destroyed by the Saami pagan gods – “burned by lightning that struck from the waters of the lake.” On a cliff face next to Lake Seydozero, in the coloring of the rocks, there appears a huge humanlike figure which, according to legend, is the imprint of Kuyva’s burned body. The imprint is known as a “seyd” and is formed by cracks and aquifers of natural origin in the rock of the Kuyvchorr plateau facing the lake.
Translated from the Saami language, Kuyva means “old man.” “Kuyva at Seydozero enjoys special honor from the Seydozero Lapps,” the ethnographer Vladimir Vize (1886–1954) once wrote. “Sailing on a karbass past Kuyvchorr, the Lapps are afraid to shout loudly or swear, for fear that the ‘Old Man’ will be angry. The Lapps avoided dirtying the water in Seydozero because ‘the old man doesn’t like it, and otherwise he won’t give fish.’” While the 74-meter Kuyva seyd is the most famous attraction at Seydozero, there are two other seyds in the area.
In accordance with decree number 894-PP of the regional government of Murmansk Oblast, dated December 6, 2021, the following is prohibited on the territory of the nature reserve: the withdrawal of land from the fund of protected forest; diverting water; any felling of trees, with the exception of thinning young forests and selective sanitation cuttings; the exploration and development of mineral deposits; the allocation of protected land for any type of use, any change of land category or other activities that contradict the goals of the reserve and cause harm to the natural environment.
In 2001–2012 an additional study of the territory of the reserve was carried out, on the basis of which it was proposed to include the Seydyavr reserve in the Khibiny National Park being designed at that time, specifically in the area known as Luvyavr. However, when Khibiny was finally created in 2018, Lovozero was not a part of it.
On March 3, 2022, the regional government of Murmansk Oblast approved a new concept for the functioning and development of its network of specially protected natural areas, in which it was planned to change the special protection regime of Seydyavr. The regional government decided that instead of a nature reserve, they needed a natural park.
Pic. 1. The planned Seydyavr natural park. Image: INEP KSC RAS.
To justify the reorganization of the Seydyavr state nature reserve into a national park, the Institute of North Industrial Ecology Problems, which is part of the Kola Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, conducted a comprehensive environmental survey of its territory. The result of their work was the research report “Survey and justification for the reorganization of the state nature reserve of regional significance Seydyavr into a nature park of the same name.”
The authors of the study write that in recent years, uncontrolled recreational pressure on the territory has increased, the number of forest plots leased for recreational purposes has increased without taking into account the conservation value of these sites or their role in public recreation, and the volume of geological exploration has increased. The report goes on to say that “these trends may have a significant impact in the coming years,” and the environmental and recreational significance of the Lovozero mountain range will be largely lost.
Therefore, it is necessary to change the category of the Seydyavvr reserve into a nature park, which will allow for the functional zoning of the protected area, expand its boundaries, include additional territories “with intact natural communities,” remove “unjustified restrictions for the development of nature tourism,” and provide “necessary regulation of the growing flow of tourists.”
The authors of the study did not hide the motivations prompting this reorganization. They are specified in chapter 2 of the document “Goals and reasons for the reorganization…”
Looking at a map of the planned natural park superimposed on the map of the existing reserve, it seems that the initiators of the reorganization plan to significantly increase the territory of the protected area.
However, upon careful study of the attached project maps, it becomes clear that the actual specially protected natural areas, i.e. the zones intended “to preserve the environment in its natural state with the complete exclusion of economic impacts,” will be only a small part of the current Seydyavr reserve (see the map in Fig. 3 below — highlighted in dark red).
At the same time, according to the organizers, almost half of the planned natural park should be a so-called recreational zone, where the regional government wants to develop tourism (highlighted in light green in Fig. 3). The recreational zone will include the whole of Lake Seydozero, on the banks of which the Kuyva seyd is located.
This is not the first attempt by the Murmansk Oblast regional government to expand the tourist (recreational) potential of the reserve. Several years ago, the leadership of the regional ministry of natural resources and ecology, together with two other organizations — the Clean Seas International Environmental Fund and LLC Made in the Arctic — appealed to the federal Ministry of Natural Resources and the Arctic Council with a request to support for a project to reconstruct an ancient Saami settlement and turn it into an educational cultural and environmental center. The organizers wanted to request about a million euros from the Arctic Council for the implementation of this project.
Some Saami leaders spoke out against the initiative to develop tourism at Lake Seyodozero, which is sacred to the Saami people. Several appeals were sent to the federal Ministry of Natural Resources and the Arctic Council, including from the Aboriginal Forum — an informal association of experts and leaders of public organizations of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East — and from the Saami Heritage and Development Foundation with a request to postpone the decision on the implementation project prior to separate consultations with the Saami community.
After the foreign participants of the Arctic Council began to ask uncomfortable questions, the authorities of Murmansk Oblast organized public consultations in Lovozero and even enlisted the support of representatives of official Saami organizations loyal to the Russian authorities. But in the end, the project did not receive funding from the Arctic Council and stalled.
However, the new initiative of the Murmansk officials shows that they have not abandoned the idea of turning the Saamis’ sacred lake into a tourist attraction.
Another reason for the reorganization of the reserve, which is directly indicated by the authors of the aforementioned study meant to justify the project, is to “ensure the sustainable functioning” of the Lovozero mining and processing plant. It is not entirely clear how this can be reconciled with the goal of environmental protection, for which specially protected natural areas are normally created.
According to the Federal Law on Specially Protected Natural Areas – “specially protected natural areas are plots of land, water surfaces, and the airspace above them, where natural complexes and objects are located that have a special environmental, scientific, cultural, aesthetic, recreational or health significance, which are withdrawn by decisions of the state agencies wholly or partly from economic use and for which a special protection regime has been established.” Note that this law has nothing to do with providing assistance to mining enterprises.
According to the proposed zoning of the new nature park, a significant area is going to be allocated to a so-called “special nature protection zone” and a “special zone of traditional economic use” (highlighted in pink in Pic. 3, as well as the striped area in the northwestern or upper left corner). The attached draft regulations for the new park propose allowing subsoil use in these zones.
The Lovozero Mining and Processing Plant LLC is a Russian producer of raw materials for the production of rare and rare earth metals, primarily loparite concentrate. The enterprise is a mining and processing complex, consisting of an underground mine and a processing plant.
Rare earth and rare metals serve as raw materials for innovative technologies. The volume of production and consumption of these metals is an indicator of the development of an industry as a whole and its innovative component in particular. Rare earth metals are widely used in the production of optics, solar cells, capacitors, electronics, special alloys (super hard, heat-resistant, corrosion-resistant alloys), and semiconductors, as well as in the nuclear industry and other innovative and high-tech industries. They are also critical raw materials for the defense industry.
Russia has enormous reserves of rare earth metals, but most of the deposits are difficult to access and lack the necessary infrastructure for their development. Lovozero, however, has large alkali deposits in a favorable geographic position.
In November, the independent Russian media outlet Novaya Gazeta published a major investigation into the nationalization in Russia of a significant number of attractive assets, which have subsequently ended up under the control of companies close to the Russian authorities. According to Novaya Gazeta, the privatization of the Lovozero plant has been declared invalid, and the plant is to be managed by the state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom.
Whether or not the nationalization of the Lovozero plant is related to Western sanctions — and to the resulting shortage of electronic components needed by Russia, including for the production of weapons — is unknown. But some experts claim that at present the Lovozero plant is the only supplier of raw materials for the rare earth metals niobium and tantalum in the Russian Federation, while “against the backdrop of the rapid severance of external relations with the West, Russia urgently needs to organize its own production of permanent magnets, including for the needs of portable military electronics.”
And so questions remain unanswered about the reorganization of the reserve into a nature park. How did the need to ensure “the sustainable functioning of the principal employer and economic driver of the Lovozero district” become one of the official goals of the reorganization? Is this decision related to Western sanctions and the shortage of chips and electronics, as well as the “necessity” of continuing Russia’s “special military operation” against Ukraine?
And most importantly — why is the reorganization of the reserve necessary at all? If changes are necessary, is it possible to consider other alternatives and introduce them into the current regulation on the reserve?
Although ensuring the rights of the Saami population is not the main goal of the reorganization, according to the authors of the aforementioned study, among the goals and objectives are:
To this end, it is assumed that “within the framework of the management of the nature park, the managing agency should take into account the vital interests of the Saami indigenous people of the North in matters of the protection and rational use of natural resources and the preservation of their original habitat within the boundaries of the nature park.”
Representatives of the local Saami have already had conflicts with the leadership of the existing reserve. For example, Saami activist Andrey Danilov has written that in 2017, a Saami family was not allowed to visit the sacred Lake Seydozero while park employees freely let tourists through. Subsequently, the management of the reserve clarified its position — organized and paid tourists have the right to visit the territory of the reserve on snowmobiles, while the Saami also have the right to visit their sacred places, but only on foot.
All of the above points in which the initiators of the reorganization show “concern” for the indigenous people of Murmansk Oblast, however, are already listed in one way or another in the regulations on the existing reserve:
Whether or not there is a guarantee that the directorate of the new nature park will have a better attitude towards the rights of the Saami than the old directorate of the reserve is also an open question.
Recently, the Russian authorities and propagandists under their control have been aggressively promoting internationally the idea that Russia takes very seriously the need to obtain Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from indigenous peoples. Several months ago, Norilsk Nickel implemented a project to obtain FPIC from residents of the Tukhard settlement (Taimyr, Krasnoyarsk Territory) in order to evict them from the industrial zone of the oil and gas company Norilsk Gazprom, and it was widely advertised at various international platforms.
Participants of the Eastern Economic Forum Andrey Grachev (left), Vice President for Federal and Regional Programs of Norilsk Nickel, and Grigory Ledkov (right), member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, President of the Association of Indigenous Minorities and the Far East of the Russian Federation; Andrey Grachev and Igor Barinov, head of the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs of the Russian Federation. Vladivostok, September 2022. Photo: Norilsk Nickel press office
At the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok in September, Andrey Grachev, Vice President of Federal and Regional Programs at Norilsk Nickel, said that FPIC is “a part of our corporate culture.” The head of the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs, Igor Barinov, praised the company’s cooperation with the indigenous peoples of Taimyr even more highly: “Their corporate project to support the indigenous peoples of the North is probably one of the best in the world, and there may be nothing else like it.”
Antonina Gorbunova, a member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Director of the International Public Organization of the Indigenous Peoples Union, presenting the same case on the implementation of the FPIC principle in Taimyr at the meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in May this year, noted that “FPIC is not only a result but, no less importantly, a process. A process of building relationships of trust, a process aimed at ensuring that the voice and opinion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of programs and projects should be heard and fully taken into account.”
The member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from Russia, Alexei Tsykarev, said in an interview of the project implemented by Norilsk Nickel in Tukhard that “if this project is not included in textbooks on jurisprudence, then it will definitely be included in studies on how FPIC is developing in the world.”
Participants of consultations within the framework of the FPIC procedure in Taimyr (from left to right): Antonina Gorbunova, Vasily Zakharov (Advisor to the Deputy Director for Regional Policy and Corporate Projects of the Norilsk Nickel Company), Mikhail Todyshev (Head of the public movement Council of Elders of the Shor People of Kemerovo Oblast), Alexey Tsykarev
These are just a few examples, but there are hundreds of such publications online about Norilsk Nickel and the “Voluntary, Prior and Informed” Consent of Indigenous Peoples. Thanks to Russian propaganda and Norilsk Nickel’s international PR campaign, the resettlement project for Tukhard residents has become a key project for Russia as part of its chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
Much less is said during such public presentations about the fact that the residents of the village did not have the opportunity to make any decision other than “voluntary” resettlement, since, in accordance with amended Russian legislation, permanent residence in the industrial (sanitary) zones of such enterprises has been prohibited.
In light of all this, the public discussions in Lovozero are a clear example of how such procedures are actually carried out in Russia. No one, of course, makes a separate agreement with the indigenous peoples. Everything is done within the framework of procedures determined by law, and indigenous peoples may or may not participate in public discussions.
Due to the remoteness of some settlements and poor communications, indigenous peoples most often learn about such discussions after the fact, when all decisions have already been made, and heavy equipment has already begun to work on their traditional lands.
But let’s return to the reorganization of the Seydyavr nature reserve. On October 19, the regional Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology and Fisheries in Murmansk Oblast published an announcement that it would hold public discussions “in order to ensure the participation of citizens, public associations and non-profit organizations, as well as to take into account public opinion.” The discussions took place in the village of Lovozero on November 12, and proposals and comments from the public, including from the Saami, were accepted until November 18.
But how, in such a short time, could unprepared listeners, including Sami reindeer herders and fishermen, understand a rather complex, technical, 170-page document, conduct an internal discussion, develop their position and prepare well-founded proposals? The question is rhetorical.
This is how they implement the harsh Russian FPIC.
Dmitry Berezhkov, Editor-in-Chief of Indigenous Russia