Interview with youth activist of the indigenous peoples of the North of Russia Mark Zdor.
We met with Mark Zdor in Berlin, in the building of the Bundestag (German Parliament), where we took part in parliamentary hearings on the problems of the indigenous peoples of Russia.
A young guy, strong, downed – a representative of the Chukchi people turned out to be an interesting conversationalist. To my question – how did he end up in Berlin and why did he come, he replied: “it’s a long story.” I, in turn, explained that I have time and I am ready to listen if the story is interesting. Here’s what he said.
Hello Mark. Nice to meet you. I did not expect at all that I would meet one of our northerners in Berlin. My name is Dmitry and I am the editor of the Russia of Indigenous Peoples website. We publish materials about the rights and problems of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, and of course it was very interesting to meet you in Germany . Who you are? Tell a few words about yourself.
My name is Mark Zdor. I was born in the small village of Neshkan, on the shores of the Chukchi Sea. This is a Chukotka village of sea hunters and reindeer herders. I was brought up on the traditional values of the Chukchi – take care of nature, respect elders, value freedom and equal rights for everyone.
After finishing school, I continued my education. In 2014, I graduated from the Khabarovsk School as a plasterer-painter. In 2020, I graduated from the College of Physical Culture and Sports with a degree in physical education and sports teacher, wrestling coach and teacher.
In 2020, I entered the Herzen University of St. Petersburg at the Institute of the Peoples of the North. Philology became my specialization. At the University, I also studied the culture of the peoples of the North of Russia. I dreamed of exploring the current state of the Chukchi language and the dynamics of its use. I also have some research experience. I wrote a research essay on the topic “National Sports of the Peoples of the North”. Despite the fact that I am currently in exile, I continue to study the cultural values of my people.
Are you in exile? So you left Russia? Forever? How did it happen?
It’s quite hard to figure it out, but in general, during the time when I was in college and then at the university, I got involved in social activities because I realized that no one but us, representatives of the indigenous peoples, can preserve our identity.
In 2019, I joined the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON) – you probably know about this organization.
In RAIPONe, I started working in a youth organization. We have put a lot of time and effort into preserving the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic. I dreamed of visiting all the Arctic regions of Russia in order to personally get acquainted with the culture of the indigenous peoples who live there. In those years, I was sure that we, at RAIPON, were working to protect the rights and preserve the identity of the indigenous peoples of Russia and the world. I worked there very actively, I think.
In 2020, the Vice President of RAIPON, Veysalova Nina Glebovna, “recommended” us to vote for Putin’s amendments to the Russian Constitution. Many of my colleagues in social work, representatives of the youth of indigenous peoples, students were indignant at the fact that we were dictated what to vote for.
We were told that this would do us good, but we all understood that this was only necessary so that Vladimir Putin would have the opportunity to be elected for another presidential term. After these events, I realized that RAIPON is a quasi-governmental organization and became distrustful of its leaders and their activities.
Nina Glebovna personally threatened me with prison. As it turned out, the leadership of RAIPON and the Institute of the Peoples of the North have a close relationship. They discuss everything among themselves and report to the University about political activists – students from among the indigenous peoples. All my peers who criticized the Russian authorities were psychologically pressured by RAIPON leaders and threatened with expulsion, problems with employment, and even imprisonment.
After the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2021, I finally came to the conclusion that political changes are needed in Russia. Like many tens of thousands of Russians, I went out to protest at the beginning of 2021. After the January rallies, I was called to the St. Petersburg branch of RAIPON because I posted a post about the rally on Instagram. Because of the persecution, many members of our youth organization were afraid to protest and speak out against political repression in Russia. At RAIPON, I was threatened with expulsion from the university, that they would make sure that no one would hire me, as well as with arrest and even prison. The leaders of RAIPON also forced me to return to the organization, tried in many ways to change my views. In addition, they tried to bribe me – they offered me paid work. Despite these threats, I eventually left RAIPON.
But how did you end up abroad?
In February 2022, immediately after the start of the war, I was detained in St. Petersburg at a rally “AGAINST THE WAR IN UKRAINE” and taken to the police station. A day later, a trial took place and I was fined.
At the police station, they told me that we, the protesters, are enemies of the people, and Putin supports the actions of the police and they can do whatever they want with us. In the police station where I was, the policemen mocked us, did not let us drink. We also could not sleep, because. the cell of the police station was overcrowded. My friend brought me a package – food, water and clothes, but they didn’t let him in and they didn’t give me the package, and they didn’t let us see a lawyer from a human rights organization, where we managed to report our arrest. Some of the guys were beaten, they did not let an ambulance to them for a long time, which was eventually called only after 5 hours in the cage.
After I was released from the police and I came to the university, they began to threaten me with expulsion and prison, and RAIPON representatives called and wrote to my relatives also with threats. After this arrest and before leaving Russia, the police came to my house several times. They checked what I was doing, even on weekends.
A couple of days after the arrest, I also received a message from a person with the nickname “Criminalist”. She wrote to me on social networks with words of support, but I suspect that it was some kind of provocateur on the part of the security forces. As a result, I closed access for outsiders to my page. I think she was testing me for extremism. Later, I also learned that both the University and RAIPON sent a testimonial to the police department, where they described me in a negative way.
And by mid-March, it became known that in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian legislation was sharply tightened and that arrests at rallies would lead to criminal cases. Therefore, I decided to leave Russia. I bought tickets for the next flight and flew to Georgia. At the Moscow airport, the border guards searched me and my personal belongings, but let me out of the country.
Yes, but how did you end up in Germany?
Since March 16, 2022, I have lived in Georgia for a whole year. At first he was afraid to return because of his anti-war position. But then, when the mobilization began, I realized that the opportunity to be mobilized for war was added to this. Therefore, I applied to the German Embassy in Georgia in order to obtain a humanitarian visa. I told my story in an interview, showed documents that I was arrested, about police supervision and others. As a result, I received a humanitarian visa and flew to Germany.
Already when I was here, I received an invitation from the Bundestag to come to Berlin and tell my story.
Thanks Mark for sharing. I hope that in the future you will have the opportunity to live in safety and study the culture and language of your people, as you originally planned, even while in Germany.
03/30/2023, Berlin, Germany