There are four Uralic peoples with whom we can no longer speak of the danger of assimilation. They have assimilated into the prevailing Russian culture and language to the extent that as distinct nations they have disappeared. There remain only a few last survivors.


Livonians have called themselves randalist ‘people of the sea-shore’ (sg. randali) and kalamied ‘fishermen’ (sg, kalamiez); since World War I they have also used the names livõd, livlist (sg. livõz, livli).

Today a small number of Livonians live in the coastal villages of the north-western part of Courland, and some live dispersed in several parts of Latvia (Ventspils, Talsi, Riga). The ancient Livonians inhabited the area called Livonia, a belt of 60-100 kilometres on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Riga, stretching from the Daugava River to the present territory of Estonia, and North Courland. The historical Livonian settlement in North Latvia could have extended even farther. According to Henric the Lett’s Chronicles at the beginning of the 13th century Livonians lived on the lower reaches of the Daugava and on the Gauja and Salaca rivers.

The dynamics of Livonian population in the coastal villages of Courland:

Year Population Source
1835 2,074 P. von Köppen
1860s ca. 3,000  
about 1900 ca. 2,000  
1925 1,238 Latvian population census
1939 ca. 2,000  
1948 500-600  
1959 200 Soviet population census


In 1970 census no Livonians were registered.

In 1990 there were about 35 people who could still speak Livonian, 15 of them fluently. In addition, there are a couple of hundred people of Livonian descent in Latvia who wish to identify themselves as Livonians.

Turning Points in the History of Livonians

12th c – German merchants arrive to the mouth of the Daugava river.

13th c – in 1201 Bishop Albert founds the town of Riga on the Livonian territory. In crusades Livonians are vanuished and they join the further campaigns against their neighbours. Latvian tribes begin to settle in the sparsely populated Livonian territories. The Livonians of Livonia assimilate with Latvians by the 19th century.

World War I – Livonians are forced to leave their native villages; after the War many of them do not return.

1918-1941 – the period of national awakening and development of national culture provoked by the Estonian and Finnish initiatives to promote closer ties between the kindred peoples. From 1923 the Livonian language is taught at schools. Teachers are trained in the Livonian language, textbooks are compiled, a newspaper is issued and books are published. With the support from kindred nations the Livonian community centre is built at Ire (Mazirbe) on the sea-shore in 1939.

World War II – Livonians are once again overrun by war and driven out from their homes.

1945-1985 – economic and cultural life in the coastal Livonian settlements is extinguished. According to the regulation of the frontier zone Livonians are not allowed to go to sea even for fishing. In 1955 Soviet military bases and a tankodrome are built between the coastal villages, people are forced to move to the inland and the Western Livonian villages are almost completely emptied. Any endeavours of national culture are banned, the Livonian Union is dissolved. The Livonian ethnicity is no longer recognised.

After 1985 – the period of liberalisation. The Livonian Cultural Society (now: Livonian Union) is founded in Latvia, where the Livonian language is taught. Livonian singing choirs in Riga and Ventspils have been founded even before that; now these develop into spiritual centres for the Livonians.



Votes, who call themselves vadjalain (pl. vadjalaizõt) and, as generalisation, maavätši, still live in five villages in the western part of the Leningrad Province. In 1989 there were still 62 persons left, half of them spoke their native language. Along with the Izhorians, they are the indigenous people of historical Ingria (Ingermanland).

The territory of Votic settlement in the western part of Ingria has never been a secure place to live, mainly owing to the military expeditions of Russians, Swedes and Germans; already in the 9th century they were ruled by foreigners. If earlier the Votes could still be recognised in the feudal state of Novgorod (e.g. as the Votic fifth), the supreme rule of Moscow, which began in 1478, impeded their expansion and development completely. Their resistance was broken by deportations (1484 and 1488) and by their conversion to Russian Orthodoxy. The establishment of St. Petersburg in 1703 created an important administrative and cultural centre and, by the middle of the 19th century, at the time of the national cultural awakening in Estonia, the Votes fell irrevocably under Russian influence. Their only remaining differentiating feature was their language, until even that barrier was crossed for good in the 1920s. The assimilation of the Votes was already so obvious that their physical destruction by the Soviet authorities (the population diminished by 90% between 1926 and 1959) seems an excessive atrocity.

After 1956, the remaining Votes were allowed to return to their villages, but these had already been occupied by Russian newcomers. Since then, the Votes have, as far as possible, concealed their Votic identity, pretending to be Russian in the predominantly Russian environment. The Russians who live in the Votic villages are totally unaware that such people even exist, to them all local Baltic Finnic people are either Izhora or Chukhny. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the use of spoken Votic language has been encouraged by the annual summer expeditions of Estonian linguists and students. The serious interest shown by outsiders in the Votic language and in the collection of materials about their language has raised the status of their native language in the eyes of the Votes and postponed their linguistic assimilation. And yet, the youngest person who can speak Votic was born in 1930.

INGRIANS or Izhorians

In 1989, eight hundred and twenty Izhorians could still be found in the western part of the Leningrad Province, between the Narva and Neva rivers; 302 of them still used their mother tongue. They call themselves inkeroiset (sg. inkeroine) or ižorat or in general maaväki. The Izhorians, together with the Votes, form the historical aboriginal people of Ingria.

Izhorians have never been a numerous people and, due to disastrous historical events (such as subjugation to the rule of Novgorod (859) and Moscow (1478), deportations to Russia (1484 and 1488), the establishment of St. Petersburg (1703) in the middle of the Izhorian and Ingrian Finnish settlements) they have never had the opportunity to become numerous. However, it is the Soviet regime that has to be credited with the destruction and annihilation of the Izhorians as a nation. There was a steady increase in the number of Izhorians (21,700 in 1897; 26,137 in 1926) until the mass repressions of the 1930s and after World War II, which annihilated most of them. The Izhorians who had been evacuated to Finland and returned in 1945 were scattered in the provinces of Central Russia, while Ingria was settled with Russian newcomers. The census of 1959 still registered 1062 Izhorians, of whom 34.7% were still using their native language in everyday life. Thus, the number of Izhorians had decreased by almost 97% within 30 years.

Since 1956 Izhorians have been allowed to return to their villages and since that time they have tried to hide their nationality in their original territory. Life among Russians in the border areas of the Soviet Empire has taught them to differ as little as possible from those surrounding them, to be as inconspicuous as possible. The language has survived, but is used primarily by members of the older generation. When they are gone, all that will remain will be a few place names, considered bizarre by the newcomers.


ENETS or Yenisey Samoyeds

In 1989 only 209 Enets were counted in the western part of the Taimyr Peninsula of Siberia, and only 95 of them knew their mother tongue. They call themselves enet' or entše (pl. entšo). Their earlier name Yenisey Samoyeds has spread through the Russian usage.

Because of their small number, the Enets have never had the vitality to survive as a nation. Inter-marriages between the Enets and the Nganasans, Nenets, Dolgans, and Evenks were common already in the distant past, and that usually meant transition to the Nenets language. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Russian supreme authority was primarily interested in the tribute and poll tax. The Soviet ideology strove for the total transmutation of personality. This brought ruin also to the Enets. By the 1950s they had been turned into resident collective farmers, by the 1960s industrial immigration reached their settlements and the gradual disappearance of the Enets as a nation went beyond the point of no return.

Enets have adopted the Russian language and culture, without being completely integrated into the Russian community; anthropological factors prevent total assimilation. The language of the Enets came under the overwhelming influence of the Russian language in the 1930s.

ENDANGERED URALIC PEOPLES Livonians; Votians, Ingrians; Uralic Peoples of Siberia and Russian Northern Europe Livonians, Votians, Izhorians, Enetses