Return of the Pomors

Ivan Moseev wants the Pomor culture to be acknowledged as the most important factor for developing the Russian north. In this interview with BarentsObserver the head of the Pomor movment in the White Sea area explains the importance of linking northwest Russia with northern Norway.


1. The Pomor Forum that took place in Arkhangelsk is the fourth one already. In what way is it different from the previous arrangements? There is a general opinion that the Arkhangelsk Forum is the most numerous and representative. This is obviously a result of some sort of positive dynamics within Pomor movement and activities. Why do you think this has happened? What are the reasons and the background for such progressive development?

Ivan Moseev: Pomor Forum is only a tip of a large and diverse work that the Pomor public leaders have been doing for many years. The main purpose of the work is to make the Pomor cultural basis acknowledged as a most important factor for the development of the Russian North and the Arctic, to strengthen interregional and international cultural and economic relations between the Arkhangelsk, Murmansk oblasts, Karelia Republic, Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Northern counties of Norway.

Positive dynamics within the Pomor movement started to develop in November last year after the meeting between the Governor Ilya Mikhalchuk and the Association of Pomors of the Arkhangelsk Oblast where the leaders of the Pomor public organizations agreed to cooperate within the Pomor vector of the regional development. In simple words, we agreed as far as possible to respect each other, listen to each other and not to direct our efforts in opposite ways. Thanks to that during a short period of time together we managed to strengthen our positions, attract intellectuals and authorities, people from the management sector, science, business, politics and civil society. Thus, we have achieved both large scale and high representative level of the participants of the Forth Pomor Forum.

2. What is to your mind the background for such active and friendly relations between the Arkhangelsk Pomors and the Norwegians?

Ivan Moseev: For the first time a Norwegian delegation from Vardø headed by Thor Robersten, special advisor of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and Head of the Association of the Honorary Pomors from this twin city of Arkhangelsk, took part in the work of the Pomor Forum. Among the members of the delegation there were honorary Pomors from Vardø – Mayor Rolf Mortensen, Remi Strand, Anne-Lise Berntsen, Monica Dahl, and others. They were a good support for us, since they were not just guests, but actively participated in the work of sessions on business, science, and culture as experts.

Thanks to the delegation of the Norwegian Pomors the Forum for the first time had the status of not only interregional, but international. We have actually witnessed a new format of the Pomor movement in the Barents region, which we will still have to understand and comprehend. It is essential that the idea to unite efforts of the constructive forces in the North on the basis of the Pomor vector of the regional development is supported not only in Russia, but also outside it, first of all in the Northern Norway.

Several centuries ago in the course of the international Pomor trade the Norwegians and the Russians from the North built a common solid historical and cultural Pomor foundation for further construction of the Barents region. It is not accidental therefore, that in his welcoming letter to the participants of the Pomor Forum, Thorvald Stoltenberg who is called by the Norwegians as «Barents-Father» specially emphasized, that our present-day cooperation in the Barents-region in many aspects is the continuation of old traditions of the Pomor good-neighborly relations between Russia and Norway, but on a higher level: « Today we can say that this new level involves such aspects as culture, economy, science, education and many others, - underlined Thorvald Stoltenberg. - I am proud to have contributed to the establishment of the Barents region which made it possible to revive the international Pomor culture. I am pleased to see the revival of the old Pomor friendship between ordinary people of Norway and Russia, the revival of interest towards our common Russian-Norwegian culture. I am also proud to bear the title of the “Honorary Doctor” of the Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU) and the title of the “Honorary Pomor” given to me on behalf of the Russian Association of the Pomors».

I do hope that the Norwegian Pomors will become regular participants of the Pomor Congresses and Forums.

3. The new research and educational Centre of the Northern Arctic Federal University on indigenous peoples and minorities has been established with you active participation.  What will it be involved in?

Ivan Moseev: Strategic international positioning of the Northern (Arctic) Federal University (NarFU) as a leading and the largest in the North of Russia basic research and educational center for training of qualified and professional personnel to study, preserve and develop indigenous peoples and minorities in the North and in the Arctic requires new and more global approaches to the matter that it used to be practiced in the higher educational establishments of Arkhangelsk.

University is a really serous thing, because this is exactly the place where the genetic code of the future development of the Russian North and the Arctic is formed. My task as a Director of the Centre is to make up a team of clever researchers overwhelmed with the idea to improve the life of indigenous people in the North, capable to turn theoretical things into the practical ones. The idea to establish a new department in the structure of the NArFU was for the first time mentioned during the visit of Thorvald Stoltenberg to Arkhangelsk in February 2011.

Thorvald Stoltenberg was given the title of the Honorary Doctor of NArFU during that visit. Together with the Rector of NArFU Elena Koudryashova, Heads of the Norwegian and Russian Pomor organizations and other representatives of science and culture from Northern Russia and Norway we signed the Russian-Norwegian “Pomor Agreement”. The main goal of the document is to assist the development of the Pomor culture in Russia and in Norway, and create proper conditions to strengthen relations and connections between people in our countries. At the same time the task was much broader than just to make the Pomor culture more popular and bring it to the foreground.

We acknowledged and discussed the fact that the Russian science in the North due to different reasons had never been performing integrated research of a number of indigenous peoples and long-standing inhabitants of the North. This is a gap, a “white spot” in the Russian science, which studied indigenous peoples in the North only officially recognized by the State. Although the Pomors were the first indigenous people, who had appeared centuries before the State was established and they had explored and discovered huge water and sea areas in the Russian Arctic, scientific knowledge about the origin of the Pomors, the history and culture are quite poor, contradictory, doubtful and disputable. Since one of the main focuses of NArFU is to study indigenous peoples in the European North and in the Arctic it is high time we started to correct the mistake.

An important event within the development and implementation of the «Pomor Agreement» has become establishment of the «Pomor Institute of the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities in the North» in the NArFU. The name was suggested by the Rector of NArFU Elena Koudryashova. A special thing about the Institute is that for the first time we will study not only indigenous peoples and minorities included in the official list of indigenous peoples and minorities of Russia, but also other indigenous peoples who do not have the status of a minority, but keep to the traditional way of life, are engaged in the traditional industries, live on the territories of traditional nature management and habitation.

Among the most important activities of the Pomor Institute should be those which had practically been not covered by the Arkhangelsk educational establishments earlier: Population genetics and adaptation of peoples in the North, Legal rights of indigenous peoples and minorities in the North, Archeology of the Russian Subarctic and Arctic. And of course we will continue successful researches of the local scientists within anthropology and ethnology, which have been implemented for many years by our professors.

4. At the Forum we heard a lot of positive appreciations towards the Pomors and the Pomor movement from all the branches and levels of authorities. What is the background for that,  do you think?

Ivan Moseev: The reason is in the combination of several factors. Among them – celebration of the jubilee of the «Great Pomor» and Russian researcher Mikhail Lomonosov all over Russia. It is not accidental that this year was declared by the Governor of the Arkhangelsk Oblast to be the regional year of the Pomor Culture. Another factor is a need of the authorities in real and active allies. It is not a secret that before the elections to state governmental bodies authorities all over the world are more willing to develop a constructive dialogue with population. Russia, where parliamentary and presidential elections are coming soon, is not an exception from the general rule.

At all the previous elections in Arkhangelsk political strategists have always been exploiting the Pomor factor to create a positive and attractive image of their candidates. Arkhangelsk is a Pomor city, and although there are not many indigenous people here, the word “Pomor” is strongly associated with a positive image. And another important factor that is worth mentioning: the Pomors are a common cultural title for the Arkhangelsk Oblast, they possess a bright regional cultural identity of the region. 

5. Which group of the Pomor people is the main driving force for your movement? Are they descendants of the Pomors who live in the cities, a sort of Pomor communities, or people actually living in Pomor villages, who keep to the traditional for the Pomors way of life?

Ivan Moseev: It is hard for me to say who is the main driving force for the Pomor movement today, since it is actively supported also by the non-indigenous people living in the Pomor land. According to the population census 2002 almost 90% of people who associate themselves with the Pomors live in the Arkhangelsk Oblast. They are very few in comparison to the non-indigenous population; the percentage is very small. But the paradox is that when fighting for its rights it is important for an unrecognized people that non-indigenous majority should also be on its side.

The Pomors is an indigenous people of the North, but at the same time their traditional culture at present is not limited by the local family community and is developing on the international cultural arena.

The Pomor villages are dying out today, people there are devoid of the right to do traditional fishing and hunting, the State sells out their land and hunting areas through auctions, that is why the inhabitants excite sympathy with all decent people. The big strategy of the Pomor movement is developed in the cities today, and its driving force is represented by individuals who are respected by the population. And the tactics of the movement is developed in the villages and our task is to have a common vector for paying our efforts. 

6. What are the reasons for today why the Pomors are nor recognized as an indigenous minority and why actually do you fight so intensively for including the Pomors in the list?

Ivan Moseev: Indigenous population in Russia which is not included due to different reasons in the Unified list of indigenous peoples and minorities is doomed to extinguish. De facto the Pomors are an indigenous minority and this is clearly stated on the report sent in 2011 to the Ministry of regional development of the Russian Federation which was signed by the Director of the Institute of ethnology and anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Academician Vladimir Tishkov and the Head of the Ethnography department in the Institute of language, literature, history in the Komi research centre of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, PhD in Historical Sciences, professor Yuri Shabaev.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation ensures the right of all the ethnical minorities for their traditional way of living irrespective of the fact if they are included in the Unified list or not. But in reality under the conditions of the governmental, oligarchical and transnational capitalism in Russia the laws work against indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, all the Russian laws adopted recently and related to the rights of population (Forest, Land, Water Codes, Fishing regulations) turned actually out to be designed so as to put out to the tender land, water bodies and natural resources which our indigenous population used to operate at their free will. Indigenous population not included in the Unified list of indigenous minorities is doomed to extinguish. Prohibition of the RF Government against traditional Pomor industry – Greenland seal hunting in the White Sea made the social situation even worse.

The locals who suffered from the prohibition have not got any compensation promised by the Russian Government. It is absolutely obvious that the Pomors turned out to be in a legislative trap and they will not be able to get out of it without relevant help from honest, non-corruptive civil servants, law makers and independent researchers. Today we gradually come up to a conclusion that a constructive dialogue between the Pomors and the authorities is possible. But it is possible only in the case if the State provides certain preferences for the population in the North.

The challenge is that in Russia there is a disagreement between notions and terms used by the researchers within anthropology and ethnology on the other hand and experts within legislation on the other hand. This leads to legal nihilism which allows dishonest civil servants to use the scientific interpretation which is good and suitable for them, or even order a necessary interpretation to the researchers not to fulfill their obligations towards the indigenous ethnic minorities. For example, Soviet researchers introduced and actively used a term «basic nationality» and «non-basic nationality».

To denote «non-basic nationalities» they also actively used the term «sub-ethnos» and «ethnographic group» which are not mentioned in the Russian legislation, where only the term indigenous minority is used. Today the decision to include a «non-basic nationality» in the Unified list of indigenous minorities of Russia is made by the bureaucrats from the Ministry of regional development (not specialized federal body which has acquired the functions of the former Ministry of Nationalities of the RF).

From the legislative point of view the process of including a separate Russian ethnic community in the Unified list of indigenous minorities is simple: the minority is included on the basis of a Submission (request) from legislative or executive authorities of a region where a certain indigenous community is living.

The status of a minority in Russia is given to an ethnic community if the number of its members does not exceed 50 thousand people (data from population census is given as a basis). According to the census of 2002 there are less than 7 thousand Pomors. Unfortunately, only two «non-basic nationalities» had time to use this right. They used to be referred to the Russian sub-ethnoses and ethnographic groups of the Russians – the Votes and the Kamchadals.

The Pomors are the same sort of ethnic community but the entrance to the Unified list shut down in front of their nose. After the census of 2002 Administration of the Arkhangelsk Oblast made two attempts to apply for inclusion of the Pomors in the Unified list of indigenous minorities of Russia. But due to some political reasons the Russian Government deliberately violated its own legislation. This contradiction has not still been eliminated. On the one hand the State says that it is ready and willing to support the Pomors, but on the other hand it disregards the law which would help to meet al lot of challenges related to the Pomors. Not so long time ago the State prohibited the activity of the traditional Pomor communities and now the civil servants are preparing to put their land out for a tender. If the Pomors were on the Unified list they would at list have a chance to remain hosts on the land of their ancestors.

Russian Arctic lands where the indigenous Pomors used to live and do their traditional industries, are now abandoned, covered with litter and garbage, and thus there are doubts in the possibility to use them efficiently in the future. It is not a secret that without indigenous and permanent population the presence of a State in the Arctic can only rest on weapons, military troops, and border guards, but this is a risky and very expensive way of militarism growth in the Arctic zone. It is much cheaper and safer for everybody if peaceful Pomor population will live in the Russian Arctic.