Indigenous activists from Russia, representing six national movements, have announced the creation of the League of Free Nations – a political platform for the decolonization of indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation and the acquisition of each nation’s sovereignty.
With the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war on 24 February, 2022, many Russian citizens of indigenous nations have been wittingly or unwittingly drawn into the ranks of the Russian army. However, most are there because they are trying to escape the horrible poverty they experience at home and see the military as the best or in many cases only way to improve their sorry lives.
Indigenous peoples have been under the Russian yoke for centuries
Back in April 2021, Sires Bolaen (Syres Boliayen), Inyazor (Chief Elder) of the Erzya people , addressed the 20th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, drawing attention to the Kremlin’s policy of purposeful neglect and discrimination of indigenous people.
Sires Bolaen (Syres Boliayen), Inyazor (Chief Elder) of the Erzya people. Photo: open source
“Within the past 30 years, the Ezrya have been turned from a nation of a few million people into a small ethnic group on the brink of complete extinction.
Our neighbours in the Idel-Ural region – Mokshans, Udmurts, Maris, Chuvashs, Bashkirs and even Tatars also find themselves in a very similar position. Native peoples in Russia are forbidden to have their own political parties, or even to study their mother tongue in secondary schools. Only dancing in national costumes is tolerated. Those who stand up for their rights are persecuted as extremists and become victims of punitive psychiatry.”
The leader of the Erzya national movement is known not only for his anti-imperialist stance, but also for leading a group of Erzya volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian army. He is the co-founder of the Free Idel-Ural movement , which advocates the withdrawal of six Volga republics (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Mordovia, Mary El and Udmurtia) from the Russian Federation and the creation of the Idel-Ural confederation.
In May 2022, Sires Bolaen once again addressed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous People during its 21st session. He publicly condemned and blamed Moscow for turning federal republics and indigenous communities in Russia into socially backward and under-developed regions where local young people seek to escape poverty by joining the Russian Armed Forces.
North Ossetia, Buryatia, Tuva, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chukotka and Idel-Ural are the regions with the highest number of dead soldiers per thousand population, he says.
Indigenous peoples gather in the League of Free Nations
In order to draw attention to the dire situation facing the indigenous people of Russia, Bashkir, Buryat, Ingush, Kalmyk, Erzya and Adyghe activists decided to set up a new organization – the League of Free Nations – and proceeded to issue a public announcement.
“These past few weeks, various media have been writing and talking more about the future of the Russian Federation after the Russian-Ukrainian war.
First of all, these discussions do not concern the organization of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation, but look more towards the paradigm ‘the future of the federal center is the future of Russia’.” reads the statement.
Vladimir Dovdanov, member of the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress underlines that his people have been experiencing colossal demographic catastrophes for centuries.
Vladimir Dovdanov, member of the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress. Photo: Idel Realii (RFE/RL)
“…This is due to the fact that we’ve always been treated as a colony ruled by a tsar. Later [during the Soviet period-Ed], the different general secretaries used the Kalmyks as disposable objects. Today, as a result of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, major global political changes are taking place, and this gives us the opportunity to become a subject state, and no longer be treated as an object. I see that many other peoples in the Russian Federation have the same desire.”
In their manifesto, the indigenous leaders proclaim the principle of “presumption of subjectivity/agency” , according to which the regions do not need to appeal to anyone to grant them sovereignty in the event of the collapse of the current political regime in the Russian Federation,.
All regions, by definition, can achieve and declare full sovereignty and full independence from Moscow. Then, acting as free territories, they can decide their own future: whether they want to remain independent, unite with other regions/republics, or create a confederation of states.
S i res Bolaen, Inyazor (Chief Elder) of the Erzya people assures that the League of Free Nations is open to new members and invites all those who share anti-imperialist views and recognize the right of peoples to self-determination to join the organization.
Erzya women from Penza Oblast dressed in traditional clothes. Source: Wikipedia
Activists of the Buryat national movement Dorjo Dugarov and Rajana Dugar-De Ponte , who co-founded the platform, believe that uniting different national movements around the struggle for freedom and political subjectivity will have a cumulative effect – in particular, open new opportunities for the members to convey their ideas on different international platforms.
Activist Ruslan Gabbasov from Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan. Photo: Idel Realii
Activist Ruslan Gabbasov from Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan , who fled Russia in December 2021 fearing for his safety and obtained political asylum in Lithuania, is a representative of the Bashkir national movement.
“I believe that all constituent subjects, as well as all indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation have the right to participate in the discussion on the future of Russian territories and to exercise their right to self-determination,” said Gabbasov .
The initiators of the League of Free Nations are as follows:
- Vladimir Dovdanov, Batyr Bormongaev, Erenzen Doliaev (Kalmyks, Republic of Ralmykia)
- Ruslan Gabbasov (Bashkir, Republic of Bashkortostan)
- Sires Bolen and Vitaliy Romashkin (Erzyas, one of the peoples of the Republic of Mordovia)
- Dorjo Dugarov, Rajana Dugar-De Ponte (Buryats, Republic of Buryatia)
Today, the members of the League of Free Nations call for the establishment of direct contacts with European, Turkish and Kazakh public organizations and political parties.
Administrative mao of the Russian Federation. Photo: World Atlas
According to its constitution, the Russian Federation is divided into 85 federal subjects, 22 of which are republics. Republics are administrative divisions originally created as nation states to represent areas of non-Russian ethnicity. The indigenous ethnic group that gives its name to the republic is referred to as the titular nationality. However, due to decades of Russian migration, each nationality is not necessarily a majority of a republic’s population.
During his long years in power, Vladimir Putin has launched several centralization reforms which steadily eradicated all autonomy the republics had, with the exception of Chechnya. All bilateral agreements were abolished and in practice all power rests with the central federal government.
In fact, some experts believe that Russia has ceased to be a federation.
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