III World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples

Helsinki (Finland) December 10–13, 2000


Brief information


Speeches of the peoplesí representatives




List of participants

Consultative Committee
of the Finno-Ugric Peoples



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 effectuation.

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 local authorities.

Source: III World Congress of the Finno-Ugrian Peoples. Helsinki, 2000 [Joshkar-Ola, 2001], pp 70–72.

print version

I - Syktyvkar, 1992
II - Budapest, 1996
IV - Tallinn, 2004