SPEECHES OF THE PEOPLES' REPRESENTATIVES
chairwoman of the Vepsian cultural society,
Dear members of the Presidium! Dear colleagues!
The last years after an explosion of "ethnicity" see
a rather alarming calm. Under the conditions of controllable democracy
the public opinion gradually changes from the motto "equal
possibilities to all nations" that was shared by the majority
not long ago to a perception of a poly-ethnic state as a threat
to its integrity.
A more stable niche in our legal situation remains for the aboriginal
small nations in Russia, to which belong peoples numbering 50.000
at most according to legislature. A special attitude of the state
towards 26 small nations of the North and Far East that was transferred
into the Soviet epoch from the tsarist Russia could secure their
preservation as ethnic communities. And the small nations which
did not belong to the northern peoples - the Vod, Izhorians and
Vepsians - suffered significantly more assimilatory losses in
comparison with the former. This proves how big is the responsibility
of the state for the fates of small nations.
From the very beginning one of the most important tasks of the
Vepsian culture society was an ambition to catalogue the Vepsians
in the list of small nations whose development is guaranteed by
the estate support. This tasks seemed easily solvable in late
80s - early 90s when many people perceived the necessity of renewal
of the national life after the principles of justice, equality
and lawfulness. But the reality turned to be much complex. It
took a whole decade to pass a law that defines the criteria of
attribution of nations to small aboriginal ones and guarantees
to their rights. As late as in April 1999 they passed the federal
law on "Guarantees to the rights of small aboriginal nations
of the Russian Federation" and in 24 March 2000 V. Putin,
Chairman of the Russian government signed an order on "A
single enumeration of small aboriginal nations of Russia"
which approved a list including 45 nations.
That enumeration embraced together with the Finno-Ugrian Selkups,
Khant and Mansis, which earlier were among the peoples of the
North, the Izhorians an Vepsians as well. Regrettably, the Vepsians
were stated in it as living in Karelia an Leningrad region. We
hope that simple actions which the authorities of Vologda region
need to undertake to name this region of Vologda in the Single
enumeration as a territory with the Vepsian residence will be
made in the nearest future.
These important political decisions of the Russian authorities
unconditionally open new possibilities for the ethnic development
of the Vepsian people. We hope that with the help of Department
of small aboriginal peoples of Russia specially founded in Ministry
of federal affairs, nationality and migration policy of the Russian
Federation the state manages to form and pursue a single policy
in regard to the Vepsians who are territorially divided among
Karelia and Leningrad and Vologda regions. The most effective
could be creation of an ad hoc working group including both the
representatives of the authorities and the Vepsian members and
to sign an agreement of realization of the law on "Guarantees
to the rights of small aboriginal nations". That agreement
is of a general character and its realization wants adoption of
many a decision on the regional level.
It is necessary that federal programs destined for the small
aboriginal peoples, such as "Children of the North"
and "Economical and social development of the aboriginal
small nations of the North till the year of 2010", will cover
the Vepsian population in places of their traditional residence.
This also will promote the role of the Vepsian society and the
participation of the Vepsians as a whole at the realization of
the law and preparation of proposals for the federal programs,
since the adoption process of federal programs and control of
their execution is legally vested both in the authorities and
social organizations which act as necessary partners at their
It is important that we obtain, footing on the law, the extension
of the rights of the Vepsian people for control of the use of
the natural recourses in the territory Of their primordial residence.
Earlier it was very difficult to do because of indefiniteness
with the composition of the small aboriginal nations.
The last point is of special importance, for very often the problem
of inter-relations between the governing bodies and the aboriginal
nations is seen by the authorities and population as consisting
only in the assistance of the authorities to the development of
their language and culture. But real partnership relations between
the power and the aboriginal nations form only when principles
and order of the use of the natural resources are reconciled in
the territory of their traditional residence. Here the speech
is about both an unobstructed access of the aboriginal peoples
to the use of the natural resources and an obligatory participation
at economical decisions in the sphere of environment and at profits
from their exploitation. In the decisions of the Constitutional
court of 7 and 20 June 2000 referring to the regularity of Constitutions
of several republics within Russia with the Constitution of the
Russian Federation is unambiguously stated that "nations
living in the territory of subjects of the Russian Federation
must have guarantees of protection and use of land and other natural
resources as sources of their life and activities". Some
steps in this direction were made in Leningrad region where the
organizational work is being done in the last years to create
a natural park “The Vepsian Forest".
We also hold for rather important the recognition of the Vepsians
of Karelia together with the Saams and Nenets as aboriginal peoples
of the Barents region in 1997. And a representative of the Vepsians
got a possibility of participating at a working group on issues
of aboriginal peoples of the Barents region. A Program of actions
for the aboriginal peoples of the Euro-Arctic Barents region for
2001-2003 prepared by the working group is oriented to improvement
of the situation of the aboriginal peoples in the Russian part
of the Barents region. And we hope that a number of our projects
will be supported by the funds of the Barents program. During
1999-2000 the Barents secretariat financed several small bur extraordinary
important projects of support for the Vepsian language and culture.
All the literature in the Vepsian language presented at the exhibition
is published at the cost of different international funds and
private persons and for the first time the Vepsian youth received
a possibility of studying in Hungary and Estonia.
Understanding the importance of international cooperation and
feeling gratitude for the help provided, we think that it should
not substitute, as it is a case now, the official support to the
ethnic development of the Vepsians from the part of federal and
Source: III World Congress of
the Finno-Ugrian Peoples. Helsinki, 2000 [Joshkar-Ola, 2001],