A Tiny Province in the Arctic Is Standing Up to Vladimir Putin

These people give me great hope. We should all vote like Nenets.

moscow, russia   july 9, 2020 russia's president vladimir putin holds a video conference meeting of the supervisory board of the agency for strategic initiatives asi alexei druzhininrussian presidential press and information officetass photo by alexei druzhinin\tass via getty images
Alexei DruzhininGetty Images

Maybe I've gotten so used to seeing criminal submission among the putative leaders of the World's Oldest Democracy, but this action, brought to us from AFP via , impresses me deeply as something very, very brave, albeit something happening at the edge of the world.

“If Nenets is merged with another region, I worry that no one will look after our language or our traditions, and that our small villages in the tundra will be forgotten,” said Laptander, 61, a member of the Yasavey cultural group. The autonomous region on the edge of the Arctic Ocean was gripped by protests in May against the government’s plans to integrate it with neighbouring Arkhangelsk.

This administrative juggling act has at its roots the everlasting greed and lust for plunder of our president's favorite and more successful kleptocrat.

The initiative, which aimed to streamline the extraction of the vast region’s mineral wealth, was buried after its 44,000 inhabitants voiced opposition to the move in a rare protest vote against President Vladimir Putin’s rule. In a nationwide ballot that ended last week on reforms to the constitution proposed by Putin, Nenets was the only region in Russia out of 85 to reject the proposals, with more than 55 percent voting against. While the vote sent a clear signal to Moscow, it was also a warning to local politicians facing re-election later this year. “The president can stay in power if he wants, but no one touches our autonomy,” said Viktoria Bobrova, 57, a local activist and retired civil servant.

See, folks. They voted. They voted for self-government. They voted for self-government and for control over their own land and the mineral wealth therein. They voted in the face of an implacable autocrat who has stolen his country's wealth and murdered his political opposition. They did it in a place where the next northern place of habitation is Santa Claus' Fulfillment Center. They voted.

The Nenets region is best known for its extreme weather conditions and the nomadic reindeer herders who call the vast tundra of Russia’s Arctic home. For generations, its local tribes have lived in tents buttressed by wood, guided by shamanistic beliefs that teach respect for the land.

Standing Rock, meet Nenets. Nenets, this is Standing Rock. You folks talk amongst yourself for a minute.

After the constitutional vote, acting regional chief Yuri Bezdudnyi conceded that the merger was no longer on the table. But the activists remain on alert, saying the merger could still happen in the future. They are also wary of a sweeping infrastructure project to develop the Arctic. Local authorities have backed the construction of a deep-water port in the village of Indiga which will be linked to Arkhangelsk by a new railway. “This line would be difficult and expensive to build because it crosses large swampy areas,” Bobrova said.
“It would be like sending a train to the moon!”

These people give me great hope. We should all vote like Nenets. (And we should vote like we all play bandy, popular in and around the Arctic Circle and elsewhere that is played with a ball on a huge ice sheet and only occasionally on a rink. Why it isn't on every weekend on ESPN, I will never know.) On top of everything else, they obviously have a great natural gift for soundbites, and I am so nicking "a train to the moon" hereafter.

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