The 7th congress of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East took place in Salekhard last week of March. The congress ended with an election thriller making the organization’s long-lasting dispute with government officials highly visible.
Pavel Sulyandziga got the majority with 190 votes in the first round with secret ballot. The two other candidates, Gregory Ledkov and Anna Otke got 139 and 27 votes each, reports Kommersant.
Sulyandziga and Ledkov have two highly different career backgrounds. While Ledkov speaks in line with government structures, Sulyandziga is an indigenous rights activist and member of the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
In the late Soviet period, in the 80ies, Sulyandziga was successful in mobilizing the population in his home area of Primorsky Kray in Russia’s Far East against the authorities’ plans to grant timber harvesting licenses to a Soviet-Korean joint venture led by Hyundai. Since then, he has remained one of the most outspoken indigenous rights activists in the Russian Federation and a very popular person within RAIPION.
Pep-talk behind closed doors
To be declared winner, a candidate needs two thirds of the votes. In the second round, Ledkov got 153 votes while Sulyandzig got 200. Then, after a pep-talk behind closed doors, Pavel Sulyandziga announced that he withdraws his candidature. The move triggered some 50 of the delegates to leave the room – refusing to continue voting - some of them shouting: “This is not fair.”
When the third round took place, the delegates voted openly so that everyone could see for whom each other voted for. Ledkov then got 232 out of 307 votes and won.
Pressured by Moscow
One delegate told Kommersant that Sulyandziga’s withdrawal of his candidature surly comes after pressure from the government’s officials staging the congress and election process. Moscow’s representative on the podium of the congress was vice-speaker in the State Duma Sergey Zheleznyak, famous for authoring the so called “Foreign Agent law” – forcing foreign funded NGOs involved in political activities to register with the justice ministry as foreign agents.
Critical voices say RAIPON’s new President, Gregory Ledkov, will wag his tail with whatever Moscow and the United Russia party want. “He will not defend the interests of people, for example, in complex situations with oil and gas companies,” one delegate said.
Heart of Russia’s gas production
Salekhard is the capital of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, the area from which the majority of Russia’s natural gas is produced. The district had sponsored RAIPON’s congress with some 300 million ruble (€7,4 million).
Gregor Ledkov, originally from Naryan-Mar in Nenets Autonomous District, was elected deputy to the State Duma in December 2011 representing United Russia. He heads Russia’s delegation to the Nordic Council.
Except Kommersant, no other Russian media have so far reported about what happened behind the closed doors in Salekhard after the second round of RAIPON’s presidential election. One source says to the newspaper that it was clearly hinted that this was a question about the organization’s survival. “The work of the organization could be terminated with Sulyandziga as president.”
Access to powers
RAIPON’s former President, Sergey Kharyuchi, openly supports Ledkov as new head of the organization. “To lead the association we need a person living and working at the heart of downtown (Moscow). It is desirable that he should have the mandate to go in the right doors.”
As reported by BarentsObserver, RAIPON in early November 2012 got the message from the Ministry of Justice that it had to close down following irregularities in its organizational statutes. The message stirred harsh reactions not only from Russian indigenous peoples’ representatives, but also from the international community.
In a joint statement, the members of the Arctic Council later the same month expressed major concern about the situation. Similarly, in a meeting in the Barents Regional Council, Aili Kesketalo, the leading Sami politician from Norway, said that she was “shocked” about the decision to close RAIPON and that it was “challenging the very foundation for international cooperation between indigenous peoples.”