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Saami

The Sami people, also spelled Sámi or Saami, are the ancient indigenous people of Northern Europe inhabiting both the northern and the central parts of Scandinavia which encompass Nordic areas of Finland, Karelia and of Kola Peninsula of Russia, as well as the border area between south and middle of both Sweden and Norway. Traditionally the Sami are placed among the rest of Finno-Ugric peoples while Sami language being considered to be a special subdivision of Fenno-Ugric group of languages of Uralic language family. However, it would be more correct to say that from the standpoint of factual history, the ethnogenesis of Sami has resulted from prehistoric Caucasian tribes of Aryans reaching Nordic Europe and Scandinavia over 10,000 years ago when being followed by Finno-Ugric, Slavic and Germanic tribes alike. Later on, starting from early Middle Ages and on clearly until the 20th century, the Sami have been gradually pushed out from their originally inhabited places by Norwegian and Swedish vikings coupled up with Finnish, Karelian and Russian rural migrants who spreaded farther and farther to the North when trying to flee from the serfdom oppression and from religious persecutions in both Swedish kingdom and Russian empire. As a result of those migration processes that took place over a number of centuries, Sami inevitably mixed up with newcomers as well as became subjects of their gradual assimilation which reflected on the consequential development of Sami language and on Sami culture and traditions as well. Thus, it would be more appropriate to consider the contemporary Sami to have been a special Nordic ethnos with Sami language staying as part of Fenno-Ugric language group only due to some formal attributes. Such statement is completely supported by the evidence that the contemporary Sami language is divided into two groups: Western-Sami and Eastern-Sami which, in their turn, have got subdivided into 11 language subgroups. It must be noted that Sami, who speak those many dialects, often feel difficulties trying to understanding each other.

Throughout the whole Sami history their main traditional occupations depending on the territory they lived and on the natural environment around have been reindeer herding, fishing, and conventional and sea hunting. That’s why Sami are considered to be the best reindeer breeders in the world. It is also important to know that due to the nomadic life in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Sami developed community lifestyle and sustainably-oriented worldviews which led to clustering of several families into one sustainable community, as well as utilization of unpretentious clothes made of animal skins and building of simple or portable dwellings (vezha, tupa, kuvas, or kuvaksa) while also using mainly meat or fish products for food and practicing hunting cult and ancestry worship, both of which were so unnatural as considered by Christian faith that came from outside and had been disengaged from local conditions of life and nature. That is the reason why Sami folklore traditions include myths, fairy tales, legends and songs; storytelling of events and objects of nature, of animals and men, as well as of historic events and household issues. Likewise, the worldview of Sami, similar to worldviews of Karelian and Scandinavian people, left no place for “impractical” mysticism and contranatural limitations which both can be easily found in monotheistic religions which are commonly referred to as Abrahamic faith.

Since the onset of the 19th century and clear until the end of WWII, all Scandinavian countries and Russia alike carried out the policies of Sami assimilation. What it meant exactly is that Sami had been destined to replace their indigenous cultural and lingual traditions with both behavioral models and languages that were prevalent in their domestic countries. It was therefore extremely difficult for Sami to preserve their own identity when such policies of assimilation had been carried out while Sami culture, language and husbandry practice considered to be obstacles on the way of national cohesiveness and general social progress in the society. The reasons for such corrupt policies were in the ideology of social darwinism which permeated practically all social spheres beginning from law making through the science, and ending up with Realpolitik. Nevertheless, there were some discrepancies in the basic attitudes toward Sami that had been practiced by different governments. For example, Sweden segregated Sami reindeer herders in the turn of 20th century while carried out assimilation policy on the rest of Sami population, while Norway practiced assimilation on all parts of Sami population without any exception. The attempts of authorities in those countries to suppress language and culture of Sami also were evident although they varied in extent.

The traditional mode of life of Sami in Russia started crumbling down already back under the Czar, however the biggest blow to it was made after the October Socialist Revolution when the Soviet government began active industrial colonization of Karelia and Kola Peninsula starting in the twentieth and thirtieth of the 20th century which did result in blanket and forced rural collectivization topped up with government-sponsored destruction of rural communities followed by terror on the well-to-do households members – the so-called de-kulakization. It resulted in almost all Sami from Karelia and Kola Peninsula ceasing their traditional trades whilst not being able to earn a living by any alternative means, so they had begun moving over to Finland, Sweden and Norway. At the same time many Sami fell victims of Soviet government-sponsored ethnic cleansing, as well as of stripping off their property and of mass executions done by secret police which resulted in practically complete wipe-out of already sparse population of Sami people.

During the WWII, the national discrimination against Sami people had reached its peak throughout all the countries where they were living, especially in Nazi-occupied Norway where Sami had really become subjects of genocidal policies and were pushed to hide their Sami origins while having to pretend to be Norwegians.

The time has changed after the WWI, and as a result of Universal Declaration of Human Rights being adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, he Sami assimilation policies carried out by Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Soviet authorities had been replaced with more tolerant attitudes. Consequently, the governments had realized that Sami, as indigenous people, have full rights that are coming from the fact that they have not chosen their living conditions at their own will. In addition to that, it had been also realized that Sami people is one cultural entity, and that their territories that are being traditional places of their inhabitance had been into different states by outside forces. Therefore, after the WWII the policies of government administrations controlling the territories where Sami had lived shifted in a positive sense and started leading to some changes in political paradigm as far as the systems of governance structure of Scandinavian countries are concerned.

In the midst of the 20th century, there was noticed a tremendous growth of ethnic self-awareness of Sami in Norway, Sweden and Finland. There were organized some international conferences dedicated to issues of Sami people. Soon after that the international community has noticed that Sami parliaments sprung up in Norway, Sweden and Finland alike. They undertook some legal acts related to Sami livelihoods that have had binding power for the governments of those three countries. Such national self-governance had a positive effect on the development of Sami languages, writing system, culture and traditional lifestyle. The year of 1956 marked the establishment of the Nordic Saami Council which became essentially a federation of Sami national organizations of Sweden and Norway, as well as of Sami Parliament of Finland. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russian Sami began joining in with the work of the Nordic Saami Council which had resulted in the name change of that international organization to the Sami Council which is now financed every year from the budget of Nordic Council of Ministers.

As Norwegian Sami sociologist Eva Josefsen stated, there have been noticed some positive changes in Sami issue throughout the last decades. The media focused on the political problems of Sami which have also gained more attention in the governmental political caucuses than ever before. There have been passed laws and decisions that empowered Sami with some formal rights. Such structural changes created conditions for activation of Sami’s political life and gave them as people more political leverage in the society than ever before. However, there are still some discrepancies among various countries related to the degree of political and civil rights that had been delegated to Sami as native people.

For instance, according to the Article 14th of the Constitution of Finland, Sami are considered native people which have a right to use Sami language as an official one. Finnish parliament passed The Sami Parliament of Finland law back in 1995 which basically provided for a guaranteed cultural autonomy of Sami within the areas of their compact settlement as well as empowered Sami Parliament of Finland to make decisions on the issues of their language, culture and various problems connected to their native status. The Sami laws of Finland (contrary to the comparable laws of Sweden and Norway) require that the government administration has a dialogue with the Sami Parliament of Finland before any kind of substantial move can be made on any issue that somehow affects Sami status as native people.

The law on The Sami Assembly in Sweden was passed in 1992 to regulate the Sami Parliament in Sweden while defining it as the Government Authority which means that it has to be perceived as the statutory undertaker. However, Sami in Sweden have not gained native people status yet which decreases their chances of success in defending both land and water rights. At the same time, the Swedish Riksdag ratified in 1999 The Council Of Europe Framework Convention On The Protection Of National Minorities thereby making Sami language to be recognized as traditional one along with Finnish while allowing it to be used in public bodies such as courts, social institutions and governmental regulatory agencies located in those regions of Sweden where Sami language is spoken.

The Sami law was passed by the Storting of Norway already back in 1987. The purpose of that law was to create conditions under which Sami in Norway can sustain and develop their language, culture and social life. The similar provision was included into the Norwegian Constitution. On top of it, Sami language was made to become an official language which therefore can be used in all public bodies located in such provinces where Sami people live. The Sorting of Norway ratified The Council Of Europe Framework Convention On The Protection Of National Minorities already in 1995 thereby recognizing Sami rights on land and water. At the opening ceremony of Sami Parliament of Norway 1997 King Harald V was present. His Majesty said that “Norwegian state was formed on the lands of two peoples: Norwegians and Sami”.

The Sami of Russia are also one of the small native peoples, however they do not have such constitutional rights as Sami of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Moreover, Sami of Russia had been forcefully expelled from their historical lands while yielding to the sheer economic interests of both government and private corporations. Sami access to natural resources every year is getting more and more strictly limited. For example, the authorities of Murmansk region create all imaginable obstacles for Sami who are trying to get quotas on utilization of aquatic bioresources allotted to low-numbered indigenous people of Russian Federation in the North, in Siberia and in Far East in compliance with Federal Law № 166-ФЗ from December 20, 2004, on “Fishing and Water Bioresources Preservation”. The regional targeted program of “Social and Economic Development of Low-numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North of Murmansk Oblast” which expects the governmental support for reindeer farming and for publishing Sami language textbooks to be gained is also not applied. Therefore the traditional lifestyle of Sami in today’s Russia is extremely encumbered and effeminate, and the development of Sami culture and languages gets no real support of the government.

Currently Sami of Russian Federation live in Lovozero, Kola and Kovdor regions of Murmansk Oblast and also in Louhi region of the Republic of Karelia. Their total population does not exceed two thousand people. It is important to note that the Sami status as indigenous people is regulated by Murmansk Oblast By-Laws, but not at all by Constitution of the Republic of Karelia which does not even mention Sami as indigenous people of Karelia whilst both Articles 11 and 21 of the Constitution of Republic of Karelia protect national development only of Russians, Karelians, Vepsians and Finns.

At the same time, Sami people representatives have been de-facto alienated from the local self-governance and have been denied any chances of electing their own representatives into legislative bodies even in such areas where they make up to 20% of the total population. Thus Sami of Russia are in the unique position that makes them different from all other low-numbered indigenous ethnic groups of that country in that they don’t have any representation either in Russian Parliament called the State Duma, or in regional legislative assemblies alike. The bottom line is that the crucial problems of Sami are being not taken in any account by the government of Russia and are not at all looked at without any saying that they are not even tried to be solved. The few local public organizations of Sami in Murmansk Oblast called “The Association of Kola Sami”, “The Sami Union” and the “Lovozero Region’s National and Cultural Autonomy of Sami” added by some Sami tribal communities are not legally authorized to make any decisions required for municipal and regional authorities.

Nowadays Russian Sami have but the slight chance of interacting with government authorities of Russia solely due to international collaboration framework of indigenous peoples of the Barents Sea region that they are a part of, as well as due to their participation in the Arctic Council and due ti associating themselves with Sami organizations in Norway, Sweden and Finland which not only do provide some humanitarian relief for the Sami organizations in Russia, but from time to time lobby the government of Russian Federation via raising the issues of severe and disenfranchised conditions of Russian Sami. One of the results of such efforts was creation of Sami Parliament of Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk Oblast back in December of 2010 which however has not been granted a necessary regulatory support from either regional or federal legislative bodies in Russian Federation.

The Regional Public Organization «Free Karelia» as the grassroots organization representing the Karelian nation which has formed at the territory of current Republic of Karelia within the long period from 9th through 18th centuries while having incorporated such ethnic groups as Ingrian Slavs, Russians, Karelians, Finns, Swedes, Vepsians and Sami, steps up as the defender of equal rights on development of every indigenous group of Karelian people. Therefore, the Regional Public Organization «Free Karelia» calls upon Russian Federation Parliament – the State Duma – to adopt legislative and regulatory acts which can institutionalize legislative activity of Sami Parliament of Kola Peninsula with the jurisdiction over all comprehensive issues of Sami livelihoods with the respective decisions taking forms of regulatory statutes that the administrative bodies of the Sami-populated regions of Russia would be obligated to comply with. The similar laws have to be passed on the federal level so that Karelian Parliament is created in the Republic of Karelia in order to sustain the legitimate interests of Karelians and Vepsians as well as to foster the development of their native languages and culture within Karelian realm. Therefore the Regional Public Organization «Free Karelia» calls to adoption of positive experience of Scandinavian countries in that special area while taking into account the rigid conditions of low-numbered indigenous people of Russia.


Fig. 1. Sami and Swedish Riksdag (Parliament)

Swedish Sami have currently very little association with Swedish political parties operating at the national level. Those parties either have none or very few Sami working on the political issues related to Sami. Nevertheless some parties undertook Sami political programs that they develop in their daily work. Swedish Sami organizations have gained a good experience working with Swedish authorities directly, as well as indirectly, i.e. through lobbying and by means of different negotiations. However they tend to loosen their grasp on such things lately due to the fact that it is now generally admitted that those functions have to become more and more a prerogative of Sami Parliament of Sweden. At the same time those organizations do take part in Sami Parliament via their own political parties. It is assumed that the increase of influence of Swedish Sami is going to take place mainly via the Sami Parliament. Unfortunately, since Sami Parliament in Sweden has very narrow formal structural limitations to carry on political campaigns, and Swedish authorities understand Sami Parliament primarily as part of the administrative branch of power, it cannot become a real power in interaction with Swedish powers.


Fig. 2: Sami and State Parliament in Finland

Various Sami organizations in Finland do not have the same kinds of resources available as do the pressure groups within Sami Parliament and within Finnish Parliament as well. Not a single local or national Sami organization has any kind of official relations with Sami Parliament via elective channels. The Sami Parliament elections are organized exclusively on the basis of voting for independent candidates. Therefore, none of the candidates have any campaigning connections among themselves nor do they bear any responsibility before any particular Sami organization. Besides, Sami in Finland never tried to solicit any kind of support of Finnish parties in order to find solutions to their own problems. Consequently that is weakening the potential role of parties as the instrument of Sami pressure on Finnish Parliament. As a result, Sami Parliament in Finland faces problems when trying to successfully defend Sami interests in Finnish Parliament.


Fig 3: Sami and Norwegian Storting (Parliament)

Sami in Norway have acquired more pressure mechanisms to influence the state parliament. Until the Sami Parliament was created, the biggest instruments in their hands were the Sami organizations nationwide. Their role has decreased quite a bit lately except for the commercial organization named the Sámi Reindeer Herders' Association of Norway which boosted up its influence to the point of becoming a full-fledged partner of the state in making negotiations on the whole gamut of issues related to commercial aspects of reindeer herding. Norwegian parties nationwide have also become instruments of rapid development of Sami Parliament since its very inception. The advantage of this last channel of influence in that it opens up more possibilities for consideration of Sami issues and elevated the extent of responsibility of Norwegian politicians who now got to hold a higher degree of accountability before their own party. Nevertheless, the system through which Norwegian parties work both in Sami Parliament and in Norwegian Storting also has some deficiencies. For example, those parties are objectively more inclined to just take into account their members’ opinions in Sami Parliament instead of agreeing with the majority of its members. As a result, this trend may affect both the legitimacy and the authoritative reputation of Sami Parliament. Hopefully, soon there will appear a new channel of interaction between Sami Parliament and Norwegian Storting. The first step on that way was made when the Sami People’s Party was created. When it wins the seats in Norwegian Storting, it would mean empowerment of Sami in Norway with more democratic rights.

It must be noted that the protection of Sami via the national parliaments in Finland, in Sweden, and in Norway is not only one way of empowerment and reinforcing of Sami influence in the domestic political arenas of those countries due to the fact that Sami in Scandinavian countries have chances not only to elect their representatives into national parliaments and into Sami parliaments, but also to participate in local and regional elections while it is not the case in Russia, for sure. Therefore in order to make the policy of cultural pluralism proclaimed by Russian Federation really work, it is practically important to engage all low-numbered indigenous peoples in Russia, including Sami, in elections’ process on all levels throughout the areas of their compact settlements, so that they can realistically improve their position within the country while using reliable political instruments. In order to centrally participation of Sami representatives in all municipal elections, to monitor the process of elections and to interact with respective electoral commissions, Russian Sami deserve to choose a dignified leader who would serve all Sami. Thereby all Sami organizations in Russia would be reporting to such leader.

Most prominent well-known Sami are:
Ole Henrik Magga, Sami scientist, the first president of Sami Parliament in Norway, the first leader of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII);
Helga Pedersen – Sami politician and public person in Norway;
Mari Boine Sami singer from Norway;
Lars Læstadius – Sami philosopher and botanist from Sweden;
Lisa Thomasson – Sami artist from Sweden;
Renée Zellweger – American actress of Sami-Norwegian origin, winner of “Oscar” in 2003;
Nina Yeliseyevna Afanasyeva – Sami woman scientist and philologist, author of the first Sami-Russian dictionary and phrasebook, first president iof Association of Kola Sami of Russia;
Valentina Vyacheslavovna Sovkina – first chairperson of Sami Parliament iof Kola peninsula of Russia;
Yelena Semyonovna Yakovleva – Sami craftswoman, chairperson of Sami tribal community “Kildin”, President of Kola Sami Association of Russia;
Ivan Yakovlevich Matryokhin – Sami singer, politician, deputy chairman ofd Murmansk Oblast Sami organization, Vice-President of international organization Union of Sami.