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Structural Violence Against Indigenous Peoples: Russian Federation

Gosart, Ulia

This work emphasizes that structural violence toward Indigenous Peoples, as enacted through the workings of contemporary institutions of governance of the Russian state, recreates the oppression characteristic of the Soviet era. This study reveals continuity between Soviet treatment and political opportunities of the “small Peoples of the North,” as the official terminology goes—the original 26 communities who would gain Indigenous status with the establishment of the Russian state—and the legal and political institutions defining indigeneity in contemporary Russia. Further, it argues that the question of Indigenous rights stemmed from and remains a part of nationality policies, a statewide set of measures focused on the political rights of the non-Russian groups within the multicultural federal system of Soviet and post- Soviet Russia. These policies institutionalized the notion of inferiority of (now Indigenous) communities as dependent on the guidance and financial assistance of the state. The notion of inferiority shaped the consciousness of Soviet and post-Soviet authorities who continue to administer these Indigenous communities as populations dependent upon the state. And yet, the opportunities to participate in the state system of administration since the Soviet times shaped Indigenous politics in post-Soviet Russia; and the fact that Indigenous activists are able to envision their communities as “Indigenous Peoples,” or communities with a right to self-determined existence, signifies a step forward, despite increased oppression against non-Russian minorities today in response to the current use of nationality policies as a means toward centralization of the state.

This essay develops these claims in three interrelated essays, aimed at disseminating findings from Russian and western scholarship, and at stimulating more research in the areas examined. The first essay, “Legal and Institutional Framework Concerning Indigenous Rights,” reviews legal developments in the area of Indigenous rights and draws primarily from legal scholarship. The second essay, “Means of Resistance to Structural Violence: Indigenous Politics,” theorizes means of Indigenous advocacy, drawing upon studies of Soviet and post-Soviet political institutions supporting rights of Indigenous and other cultural minorities. It also investigates the history of post- Soviet Indigenous mobilizations. The final essay, “Consequences of Structural Violence,” examines the effects of structural violence and draws from the studies of Indigenous demographics and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous populations, and the recent 2010 census data. The essay advocates for the widening of political opportunities for Indigenous Peoples at the regional and local levels of the contemporary Russian state.

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Also Published In

Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace
Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University

More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University
Published Here
December 15, 2017


This is a chapter from "Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace". The entire volume is available in Academic Commons at