Staunton, October 9 -- The Republic of Buryatia may become the third federal subject in Russia to create an ombudsman to protect the rights of the numerically smallest nationalities living on their territories, one indication of the way in which regional governments are striving to deal with nationality questions even as Moscow appears to be devoting less attention to them.
Speaking to a meeting of the Civic Forum in Ulan-Ude today, Yuliya Zhambalova, a member in the republic parliament, said she had introduced a bill in the republic’s People’s Khural to create an ombudsman for the rights of the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North (baikal-daily.ru/news/16/98619/ and nazaccent.ru/content/13467-v-buryatii-mozhet-poyavitsya-upolnomochennyj-po.html).
She did not provide any details about whether this would be a full-time or part-time position or about exactly what such an official might be expected to do. But an examination of the two such posts that already exist, in Krasnoyarsk Kray and in the Sakha Republic, provide some clues about an institution that appears likely to spread to other federal subjects as well.
An ombudsman for the numerically small peoples of the North was created in Krasnoyarsk kray in October 2007 in order, according to the act, “to provide government defense of the rights of indigenous numerically small peoples living [there]” and to ensure that government agencies and officials follow the law regarding such peoples (sobranie.info/authorized.php).
The second such ombudsman position was created by the Sakha Republic in June 2013 with much the same charter, and the post was filled by Konstantin Robbek in February 2014, by the vote of the republic parliament. At the time of his confirmation, Robbek was the responsible secretary of the Association of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the North of the Sakha Republic, an indication that the ombudsman post may become a link between these peoples and the state (iltumen.ru/node/11395).
When he was appointed, Robbek identified three areas in which he said he would be especially active. First, he said, he would seek to “preserve and develop the native languages of the peoples” he was responsible for and ensure that their relations with the state and with businesses were fair and balanced.
Second, he said his office would be involved with protecting traditional ways of life not only in the areas where such peoples have lived in the past but in all areas in which they form “compact groups,” including the cities to which some of them have moved.
And third, he said would be addressing the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse in these communities.
How effective such officials can be is very much an open question, and some members of the numerically smallest nationalities may see this as yet another way for the authorities to avoid dealing with their problems, given than ombudsmen often have less clout in government chambers than do other officials.
But it is possible, especially if those who occupy these posts have backgrounds in ethnic activism or local politics, that these ombudsmen may play a larger role than anyone expects, mobilizing their communities and speaking for them to the media when no one else seems willing to do so.