Greetings, Savages, or Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
On the eve of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, announced by the UN, I recalled a recent conversation with one of my colleagues, an indigenous person, who was complaining that the authorities are refusing (???) to hold an indigenous peoples convention in order for these indigenous peoples to oust their leaders, who are “latched onto the [federal] teat and have forgotten their people’s wants and needs”. In response to my question about why the authorities are required to hold this convention, my colleague responded with some uncertainty – that they just must. My explanations that “the authorities are actually not required to do that” and, moreover, that “doing that would be an interference into indigenous peoples’ affairs, initiated by the representatives of the indigenous themselves” were eye-opening to him.
Not so long ago, when the regime allowed to take a breath of freedom now and again, many indigenous peoples’ organizations almost always organized conventions with the authorities’ presence, and some leaders even boasted among themselves that they had “the governor himself attend, while the others only had deputies.” In reality, such symbolic gestures—like the participation of persons o importance—are only important when you live in a normal state. But in places like our country it is merely an element of a propagandist (and very cynical) show: one side (the authorities) show their attention and care, and the other (the indigenous peoples) go about begging this representative of authorities, hoping to get something out of them, depending on the importance of the given historical moment. I am not reproaching those who ask authorities for help. It is well understood that when you need to survive, when you need to climb out of poverty, when your children need food – you will do whatever it takes. But this begging – it is a vicious circle, a quagmire that sucks you in and leaves no hope, unless to turn away from this path… My colleague then asked: and how have you, the Udege, been solving this problem?
But we didn’t have to solve it. We just remembered the saying – “fear the Greeks that come bearing gifts” – and we stuck to the principle that one has to pay for everything they get. And if you do not want to pay with your freedom, then take responsibility for the fate of your people, don’t beg for and don’t expect any handouts.
With this in mind, we have not held a single (!) conference or convention with the support of authorities. We negotiated with the authorities and invited them to participate during one of the days of our forum, so that they could respond to the delegates’ vital questions, tell us about their plans, hear our demands and suggestions. Following that, the representatives of authorities left our forum and we continued to discuss our issues and plan our actions. We never held our conventions or conferences in administrative buildings. We held our first forum, and then a few more, in Krasny Yar, the Udege capital. The rest were held in Vladivostok, either in hotels or in the buildings of our partner organizations – other NGOs, the Arsenyev Museum, the Gorky Library. Some of my fellow Udege were not in line with such an approach. They would say that holding our forum in administrative buildings and having top officials attend it would raise our event’s status. Regardless, we continue to follow the same political strategy.
I will bring in an example to illustrate our commitment to this strategy.
In the 90s, when we actively fought for control over our territories and worked on a development strategy for our people and ways of implementing it, I had a conversation with Governor Nazdratenko. After a lengthy conversation Nazdratenko said: “Let’s agree in the following way. We are glad to meet you halfway, we understand why it is important and necessary to preserve and develop the Udege people. But I have one condition, you must choose what you want: land or money for development. Either one or the other. We cannot give you both.” We held discussions and consultations among the Udege and made a decision: we wanted our land. And our Udege communities (Krasny Yar, Agzu, Mikhailovka and the Iman Udege) received the authorities’ decision that confirmed the Udege’s rights to their hunting territories. Meanwhile, Primorsky region remains practically the only region in Russia that did not have a state-run regional program of indigenous people’s development; we did not receive any regional financing. To be fair, I want to say that at that time the authorities strictly abided by our agreements and did not make any decisions regarding our territories without first reaching an agreement with us. Here is an example of how that worked.
One of Bikin’s biggest problems was poaching. We worked extensively with the department of hunting resources of the Primorsky region and with ecology organizations that supported us and came to the following decision. We signed a tripartite agreement between the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Primorsky region, the department of hunting resources of the Primorsky region, and the ecology organization “Tiger Trust” – whose aim had been to create a special unit to fight poaching on our territory in Bikin. The department took upon itself the responsibility to create this unit, and its employees were granted the authority of state inspectors. The “Tiger Trust” organization took over financial and other types of help in this unit’s work. The Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Primorsky Region was responsible for preparing the personnel for this unit (out of indigenous and local people).
This being said, the agreement’s most important condition was that the department of hunting resources would hire into this unit only those people who have been recommended by the association. Therefore the following agreement: 1. Established a system of co-government of the territory that included indigenous people; 2. Precluded the possibility that state inspectors would abuse their power over the indigenous people; 3. Established that the indigenous peoples themselves were responsible for safeguarding their territories and training personnel.
P.S. And the words “greetings, savages” in the title of this blog entry is my sarcastic reaction to an article by a certain Russian nationalist who positions himself a “scholar” and “expert” on indigenous peoples, in which he writes plainly that indigenous peoples are savages.
On the events of January 6, and
Translation by Tatiana Filimonova
On the 6th of January 2021 the whole world was anxiously watching the events unfolding on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
I even received phone calls from Russia and Europe, my concerned friends asking – what is happening in the U.S.?
I want to state outright that I observed the rather unpleasant and dangerous events unfolding in Washington without any anxiety (although my wife was plenty worried). Not because I am a hopeless optimist, or because I didn’t care, but rather because I was certain that the American system had an enormous safety buffer in order to go through this ordeal.
This system held up during the four-year- long challenge of the exiting president, waving him good-bye at the election, and so the January 6 events were (in my view) a mere mosquito bite; unpleasant, itchy, but necessary for building up tolerance.
I do not specialize in or study the U.S., I am not a U.S. citizen (but I THANK THIS COUNTRY IMMENSELY for sheltering me and my family at a difficult moment, and for becoming home to my younger children), and so I tried to avoid making any statements regarding ongoing matters.
But the events of January 6, and specifically, the information I heard and read about them from a variety of sources and individuals, prompted me to share the letter I wrote to Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States, in 2016. In this letter, I shared my vision, or, to be more precise, my admonition regarding the development of a dangerous tendency.
Let me repeat myself – I am certain that the American democratic system has an enormous safety buffer. Because it is based on values of humanity and considers human nature, both human virtues and their vices. I have a lot of criticism toward this system, I have my own thoughts (perhaps erroneous) regarding what might be important to consider, to improve, to change, etc. But my current post is about something else.
I really like the words uttered by Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of the US (what follows is not verbatim, but rather my summary) that democracy is not a static goal; it is a process of the everyday, of the routine… And therefore I am confident that the American people, that its leaders will draw conclusions from yesterday’s events and will continue on the path of democracy.
Here follows the letter that I wrote in 2016 to the then-outgoing president during the 2016 presidential race (which Trump won) and which, I think, is relevant to the events of January 6.
To the President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama
Esteemed Mr. President!
I understand that the chance of you receiving and reading my letter is very small, but nevertheless I decided to write you.
There are several reasons that prompted this letter.
The first is the impending end of your presidential term. I would like you to hear words of thanks for what you have achieved regarding the development of indigenous rights’ protection from a man who himself represents an indigenous people and who has long been engaged in defending these rights, including at the international level.
I know that when you arrived at the White House the official U.S. policy on indigenous rights changed, turning the U.S. from being an opponent of creating international agreements on indigenous rights to their active promoter. Much is yet to be done on this path, on the path of justice for some of the most vulnerable inhabitants of our planet – indigenous peoples – and I really hope that the next president of the United States will follow in your footsteps.
My second reason is also connected with the approaching end of your term and the election process that is taking place in your country. Of course, presidential elections in the U.S. are a purely domestic affair of the United States and its citizens, but I am certain that this election will be watched closely by the majority of countries across the globe for a long time still, considering the position that your country holds in the world. I am not a specialist studying political processes, especially those in the U.S., and it is not my custom to meddle (even abstractly) in others’ business (unless it involves harsh human rights violations), especially in questions that I do not understand well, however, I would like to wish that the American people make the right choice. It seems to me that one of the candidates is starting to use a very terrifying and dangerous weapon – the lowly feelings of the crowd. These are the feelings to which Hitler and other human rights criminals appealed. I am certain that the state system that was created by the fathers of your nation will stand strong in this trial, but there is no reason to create “an interesting time” for historians and political scientists to study because ordinary people’s lives become truly hard at such “interesting times.”
The world is currently struggling with the spread of terrorism, and this is an important struggle. We see this terrorism, we feel it, and the people understand the need for restrictions implemented because of it. But I want to warn you of another, no less frightening danger, which humanity is encountering today. It is the challenge of vices. I understand that vices will exist so long as people live. But I mean to say something else. I mean that we cannot allow these vices to rule – our state, our society, our relations. Because that will lead to chaos and decay. And this is precisely the challenge that a healthy society, a healthy state will face if deceitful and cynical people come to power. This challenge is very difficult because it is invisible; it is couched in semi-truths, because it manipulates people’s feelings, awaking animal instincts in them.
Mr. President, I wish that you and your people are not dealt this challenge. But if the opposite occurs, I wish you success in overcoming this challenge and making the right conclusions.
And lastly (I have been told that presidents do not read long letters). I am certain that the difficult times that currently characterize our nations’ do not stem from our peoples. I express my gratitude to you and ask that you pass along my warmest greetings (if my letter does reach you) to the representatives of the indigenous peoples of the United States at your now annual October meeting at the White House.
With respect and best wishes to you and all of the American people,
Russian citizen, representative of the Udege people.
About honor and dignity.
There is a lot to learn from the story of the closure of the The Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North of Russia (CSIPN) by the so-called Moscow City Court. Usually, the first reaction to this kind of thing is to appeal to those who allegedly can influence the situation, change it. After reading the publications of the propaganda media National Accent and the opinion of the so-called experts (they are just ordinary officials and representatives of a GONGO), I remember two stories which vividly describe the current situation in Russia. They prove that the activities of the CSIPN were and are important not only for indigenous peoples, but also for the whole civil society of Russia.
In 2022, the CSIPN will celebrate its 20th anniversary. The foundation of the CISPN is a story of cooperation between the indigenous peoples of the North of Russia and the Inuit peoples of Canada, the story of close interaction.
In the 90s, during hard times after the Soviet Unit crushed, the Inuit of Canada and Greenland gave a helping hand to the indigenous peoples of Russia, they shared their experience of self-government and development of their communities, they helped to create a Movement of the Indigenous Peoples of Russia to defend the rights and interests of indigenous peoples, they delivered humanitarian aid to the indigenous peoples of the Chukchi Peninsula (at this time Russian government was unable to provide the delivery of food and essential goods to this distant area). They also helped indigenous peoples of Russia to create the base for self-government, they literally shared with us what freedom, dignity and solidarity is.
I want to tell you about one very revealing episode at the beginning of this cooperation, when we discussed various ideas and options for interaction. The Canadian delegation, including Intuits and some representatives of the government, visited the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia in order to discuss cooperation plans with indigenous peoples. After reading the program of their visit, the representatives of the Inuit peoples were very surprised: the program was full of entertainment – visiting the spa resort Paratunka, volcanoes, geysers and concerts – and almost no meetings and discussions with indigenous peoples. They immediately offered the representatives of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka to discuss the program of their visit and asked whether the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka agreed with the program. It turned out that the proposals of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka were ignored by the Russian authorities who wrote the program. Then Inuit leader Violet Ford at a meeting with representatives of the Canadian government demanded to change the program and take into account the proposals of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka. The Canadian government answered that they were only guests and had no right to change anything, and Violet Ford, on behalf of the Inuit part of the delegation, said that in this case the Inuits would fly home, they would not participate in an event which violates the rights of the indigenous peoples of Russia. After that the issue was quickly settled and the program was changed according to the proposals of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka.
Why did this particular episode of a successful and fruitful history of cooperation come to my mind? Here is another example– the speech, which Mr. Nikita Shulbaev, so-called leader of the Shors (a native ethnic group in the Kemerovo region of Russia), has recently held the Shors’ holiday. Mr. Shulbaev is a typical representative of the RAIPON (The Russian State Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North). Shulbaev bowed his head in gratitude to the regional authorities for kindly allowing the Shor holiday to be held and not just anywhere, but in the capital of the Kemerovo region! The “leader” of the Shors didn’t even understand how he humiliated his people, who, in their homeland, on their land, already feel like outcasts, strangers, forced to bow and beg for having their holliday.
Freedom and dignity is what the CSIPN has been trying to support in the leaders of the indigenous people of Russia, to raise these feelings in the youth. We believe that the time of the proud, free, worthy indigenouse people in our country is yet to come.
Read more about CSIPN here: Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North | Front Line Defenders
Read more about The Russian State Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North:
The first free democratic elections in the Ussuri taiga
I read about the US elections in my friends’ stories in social media and decided to share my personal story, how I participated in the elections in the Soviet times, when, moved by my own ignorance, my education and the first breaths of Gorbachev’s air of freedom, I organized democratic elections in my native village. It was 1987. At that time I graduated from the institute and returned home, to my village, where other Udege people (native population of Primorsky and Khabarovsk Krai of Russia) live. I worked as a teacher of mathematics in a village school. It was always my dream to teach my Udege children, and I plunged into it with all my youthful energy and desire. In 1985, I even got a title as the best young teacher in Primorsky Krai and visited Moscow for the first time to participate in the 1st Congress of the Best Young Teachers of the Soviet Union.
With young people from the village we organized various sports and cultural competitions, participated in regional championships. My authority was rising, young people began to turn to me with other questions not related to education and culture – about the unfair distribution of hunting areas, about hunting areas of the Udege people which are sometimes given to strangers. I raised these issues in front of the director of the local kolchoz thinking: ”There is a problem and it should be solved.It is important to inform local authorities, if they find out about the problems, they can do something.” But the director’s answer struck me – “Listen, young boy, keep singing and dancing, we’ll help you, don’t mess around with politics”. If they
told me “okay, we’ll figure it out,” I would have stopped thinking about it – I had a lot of other things, worries and plans. But then I bit the bit: so what am I to you – a mass entertainer or something?!
My attempts to solve the issue in the Comunist party committee (I was a member of the party) and at the village Council (I was a deputy) did not give any results. That’s how the election campaign for the deputies to the village Council began. Me, as a secretary of the Cumunist Youth of the village, together with the secretary of the same department in the kolkhoz (he was not local, worked there as a hunter), we invited people for the united Comunist Youth conference and put forward our candidates against the candidates of the Communist party. And what happened then! The chairman of the regional Comunist party,
the 1st secretary of the regional Cumunist Youth committee – they immediately came to persuade us to withdraw the candidacies elected at our conference. But we refused…
A week later, the hunter urgently left for good (People from KGB gave him 24 hours to leave the village). They couldn’t send me anywhere, so they punished me in another way. They collected statements from my fellow tribesmen that I was a drunkard (I have never tried alcohol at that time), that I beat students and scolded their parents with obscene words ….
They opened a case against me, wanted to exclude me from the Comunist party, but at a meeting with the Regional Communist committee some members reminded them that in the recent past I got a title as the best young teacher of the region. As a result I was reprimanded with entry into the registration card (at that time it was like a stigma of unreliability of a person).
But it was already the time of the beginning of the Gorbachev thaw. The authorities could not prevent my tribesmen from electing me chairman of our village Council at the elections.
They were the first free democratic elections held in our Ussuri taiga in one village of Udege people …
I have never used the word “vatniks”*…
*Vatnik – quilted wadded jacket, traditional clothes of Russian soldiers.
I have long wanted to write about this, but never got around to it. And recently I have talked with my old friends living in Siberian villages about the ongoing processes in Russia, the “voting” on the constitution, and decided to share my thoughts anyway.
I have never used the word “vatniks”, because, as for me, it is quite offensive, although it probably conveys the meaning.
And after talking with my friends, very good and decent people, I understand even more that the concept of “vatniks” is much broader than democratic-minded citizens who want changes in the country can imagine. This category of people includes many ordinary decent people, because they do not have all the wealth of objective information. Of course, they also have conservative thinking and must toil long hours working in the garden to feed themselves (they have no time to read and learn new things), and so much more.
And to make it clear what I mean, I will give my own example.
The understanding of what Stalinism did to the country came to me quite late. Only when the access to information sources was opened. When it became possible to read, compare, and analyze.
I remember how I had a conversation on this topic with my good friend, a historian. My friend was from a wave of Soviet dissidents who had long understood the ongoing processes in the Soviet Union and fought the ruling regime as best they could.
– How did you not see this? You have an analytical mindset, you have always strived for justice. How could you not see the cynicism of the communist leaders, their hypocrisy, and double standards?
Where could I see it? Those who lived in Moscow, in the capitals saw and faced all this. And for me, the communists were my grandfather, my father, my teachers – Boris Konstantinovich Shibnev and Viktor Dmitrievich Galitsky, the most honest and decent people who have always been an example for me. It is with them that I associated the Communist Party and communist ideas, and not with the Kremlin elders or the leaders of raykom (district committee).
And that is why, dear liberals and democrats (to which I belong now), if you really want to make the country better and give people the opportunity to feel like HUMANS, you should not humiliate and slur those of its citizens who are poorly versed in the current events and the world around.
…Although sometimes you feel no other way than to swear…
Dear readers of our site, today I am opening a new rubric to introduce you to the current issues that Russia’s indigenous peoples are facing, well, not only Russia’s.
After I have read the horrible news about the remains of indigenous children that were found in Canada, I decided to share a story of boarding schools’ problems of my people. The problem that might seem ancient, but that is still happening nowadays.
My tribeswoman Christina Voronova of Anyui Udege did leave her homeland (Arsenevo, Khabarovsk State) after all. She left her homeland where she was a maths teacher at school where she studied herself. She was the one who told me that awful story. I didn’t share this information publicly, as I promised not to make an issue out of it, and in return, the local authorities would deal the discrimination and humiliation towards the Anyui Udege. He story I am about to tell in happening in the State of Khabarovsk, which is widely celebrated for being one the country´s most prominent states in regard to ensuring the right of indigenous people.
Christina told me the story herself, she also sent me copies of the letters and appeals to different institutions of the State.
To make it easier for you to understand, I will tell you what was happening in my school in Krasniy Yar during the Soviet times, something I thought was gone a long time ago. But now I think that this “Soviet era” practices are still existing in its worst way in other regions of Russia. And if it is the case, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to share with other people, in order to stop these ongoing humiliations and destruction of aboriginal children lives.
… For noble (as usual) purposes, the soviet authorities have made special classes for indigenous kids who “could not manage” the school program, “had difficulties” understanding their teachers, “lagged behind in mental development” compared to other kids. These kids were taught the basics: counting, writing, and reading. Which seemed like a generous offer. But in fact, in those classes children were being bullied and humiliated. Children from the other classes and even some adults called them idiots and morons. I cannot think about these children from these classes without the feeling of pain and guilt, just like they used to always feel guilty, and there has always been this longing and sadness in their eyes. But back then, as a child, although I did not participate in bullying, I did not stand up for these children because I did not know what was happening.
After receiving my university degree, I returned to my hometown to work at my old school. This happened in the middle of 80s, I quickly ranked up and became the chairman of the Council of Deputies. One of the first things I did, was to close the boarding school, which reminded me of the children’s humiliation.
As it turned out, many of the people who could have influenced this situation, knew about the horrors that were going on, knew that this was immoral and wrong. But they kept the system, the main reason stated for that usually was connected to providing the workplaces in the village. As you might know, finding jobs might be hard, especially in the indigenous areas. But back then, I was able to convince people and the deputy that this was a necessary step to save children’s and their parents’ dignity. As the boarding school got shut down, I thought that these nightmares would forever stay in the past.
And then Christina told me story of her school, the story of her mom. Her mom was a teacher, who tried to fight the same system I fought against. Christina´s mother saw the suffering of the kids assigned to these “special” classes with her own eyes. Moreover, she saw the special needs classes were filled with the udege kids. The school´s authorities were putting indigenous kids in those classes for the same reason as many years ago: to keep to workplaces.
Christina´s mother was trying to fight it as much as she could: for instance, by writing official letters and appeals to the authorities and relevant institutions. However, her heart could literally not go on with it, and after yet another round of “face-off” fueled by the school´s management and village´s authorities, Christina´s mother passed away.
Another disturbing thing is the fact that the school never appointed an udege principle. Even in the situations when there were no qualified candidates among the non-resident/non-udege teachers, they still got the position even despite the lack of higher education. The appointing managers preferred the non-udege candidates, possibly thinking that both children and adults alike were incompetent and incapable people. All of this happened while the district authorities together with the indigenous leaders reported on the alleged success and achievements, and the Khabarovsk district was considered to be the most forward-thinking.
I really hope that the Association of indigenous peoples of the Khabarovsk district will initiate an official check of the actions taking place in Arsenevo village right now. As far as I understand, Christina has left the village. She did so because she realized how useless her efforts were and got so horribly tired of trying to fight the system. For Christina the horrors are over, however, the Anyui Udege children are still suffering.
Stating this situation with the Anyui Udege people as an example, I would like to address many of the indigenous leaders (or those who are trying to help their tribesmen to survive), who think that they are outside of the big political game, and/or those who think that there must be a collaboration with the authorities, no matter what. I do support your views, however, please keep your actions dignified, know that you are powerful people of your land, and that you are the ones working towards the preservation and development of your people. I do understand that syndrome of being a graduate of these “special classes” still guides our lives. However, if we do not end this system, it will end us.