The Russian State and the Arctic Indigenous Peoples: Is Politics Coming Back?
- Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization
- Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, The George Washington University
- Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2020
- pp. 541-564
- Additional Information
This article explores the social changes among Yamal reindeer herders that gave rise to the Voice of the Tundra protest network. It argues that the region is experiencing the "Yamal paradox." Contrary to some predictions that the hardships of nomadic life would push the tundra Nenets into an urban environment, the number of Nenets reindeer herders has grown, while reindeer herds have doubled over the past 15 years. At the same time, there has been intensive industrial development, leading to a clash of interests between the growing oil and gas industry, on the one hand, and the expanding herds, on the other, sparking Indigenous resistance. The Voice of the Tundra project reflected the main "pain points" for Indigenous people resulting from the development of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YNAO): the shortage of land for growing reindeer herds caused by the energy sector's use of ancestral territories; the uncertain prospects of nomadic reindeer herders in the face of accelerated industrial development in the region; and the crises plaguing Indigenous leadership and official organizations. The study demonstrates that the Voice of the Tundra, which speaks in the name of Nature and of the People, has returned politics to Russia's Indigenous sphere. This protest movement represents a new social and political phenomenon.