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Protesters rally to oppose landfill construction in Syktyvkar. November 9, 2019

‘This is the land of our ancestors’ How plans to put Moscow’s trash in the Komi Republic’s taiga united environmental, indigenous, and Communist activists into a new opposition movement

Source: Meduza
Protesters rally to oppose landfill construction in Syktyvkar. November 9, 2019
Protesters rally to oppose landfill construction in Syktyvkar. November 9, 2019
Kirill Shein / 7x7

Since the fall of 2018, waves of protests have continuously swept through Russia’s north, both in the Arkhangelsk region and in the Komi Republic. The protesters are attempting to stop the construction of a new landfill near the Shiyes train station, which is located on the border between the two regions. The project appears to have little to do with local demand; instead, its purpose is to deal with the ever-escalating production of waste in Moscow. Arkhangelsk and Komi residents, even if they live hundreds of miles from Shiyes, believe the dump will devastate the natural environment around them.

In the Komi Republic in particular, the ecological protests have sparked a rise in local ethnic activism. Komi activists have even allied themselves with the local Communist Party to stand against the regional government. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev traveled to the republic to find out how its “trash protests” merged into rising political dissatisfaction and frustration at what activists call Moscow’s colonialist policies.

On November 9, 2019, in central Syktyvkar’s Michurinsky Park, about 5,000 people gathered for a protest. It may have been the last major rally in the Komi Republic against the construction of a new landfill near Shiyes Station, but this protest was far from the only one. Shiyes is close to the Komi Republic’s border, about 100 km (62 miles) from Syktyvkar, which is the regional capital.

A few dozen flags rose up above the crowd: The bright red of the Communist Party; the blue, green, and white of the Komi Republic, and the unofficial Komi seal with green crosses on a blue background surrounded by a white border. There was no white, blue, and red to be seen. “There wasn’t a single Russian tricolor!” Sergey Yelfimov, a local leader from the indigenous Doryam Asnymos movement, later exclaimed. The name of his group translates as “We Protect Ourselves.”

The Moscow government’s plans to build a garbage dump at Shiyes didn’t just spark environmental protests; they also catalyzed an increase in local dissatisfaction more broadly, sparking a growing Komi ethnic movement in the Finno-Ugric region.

How the Komi Republic’s 1990s independence movement died out and came back

The Doryam Asnymos movement was founded in the 1990s amid a wave of other ethnic movements that followed the fall of the USSR. “The Komi Republic is a colony, which means it should receive independence — like Angola or Mozambique, for example. Why do negroes (sic) have the right to independence, but not Komis?” In a 1992 interview with the newspaper The Evening Syktyvkar, this is how longtime Doryam Asnymos leader and co-founder Nadezhda Mityushovva expressed her thoughts about Komi sovereignty.

In the same interview, Mityushova called for more ethnic Komis in the republic’s legislative and executive branches as well as “the destruction of the monopoly of the center” (that is, Moscow). According to Mityushova, the Russian federal government’s economic policies had led it to “successfully plunder the natural riches of our region” and degrade Komi culture.

In the 2000s, Doryam Asnymos’s presence fell away. By the 2010s, it seemed that both the organization itself and the Komi ethnic movement as a whole had died out completely. In 2019, however, a new organization was formed with the very same name — Doryam Asnymos — and it brought the old and new Komi activist factions together.

Sergey Yelfimov is one of those new leaders. He told me that he was also involved in the movement of the 90s and that its present resurrection carries through “a certain continuity” That is an understatement: The rhetoric and aims of the newly formed group are almost identical to those Nadezhda Mityushova put forward decades ago. Doryam Asnymos does not call for the Komi Republic to gain independence from Russia, but it does aim to achieve more representation in government. The group’s first goal is to receive a leadership role in the official (and implicitly government-controlled) interregional organization Komi Voityr, or The Komi People. Goal number two is to focus on local elections in the Komi Republic’s larger cities and fight for legislative seats there as well as in the regional parliament, the State Council. The next State Council elections are set to take place in 2020.

The activists have an unusually good shot at achieving their goals because this time, they are not acting alone. Instead, they are allied with the environmental activists who have gained power during the Shiyes protests as well as the local branch of the Russian Communist Party, which has positioned itself in complete opposition to the current regional government.

This unofficial (but not at all unspoken) coalition of ethnic activists, nature defenders, and Communists has also used anti-Moscow rhetoric much like Mityushova’s. Specifically, the activists have argued that the federal center treats the interests of the Komi Republic’s indigenous population with contemptuous neglect. First on the list of the capital’s slights is the 2018 law that made all indigenous language classes voluntary nationwide. Also high on the list is the center’s tax policy, which local politicians call “pumping money out of the Republic.”

Sergey Yelfimov is no traditionalist, nor does he seem eager to use the visual manifestations of his people’s culture for political purposes. He arrived for our interview in a hoodie with neon green trim and a neckerchief of about the same color. Soon enough, two of Yelfimov’s colleagues from Doryam Asnymos, Galina Udortseva and Nikolai Udoratin, joined us. Talking over each other, they said their movement has no single leader and that each of its members has their own role to play. Udortseva, “a good orator who inspires people,” currently leads the way in matters involving ecology and the Komi language, while Udoratin, a member of the Communist Party and the Komsomol, is responsible “for politics.”

Sergey Yelfimov makes a point during elections for Komi Voityr delegates. October 10, 2019
Dmitry Stepanovsky / 7x7

Galina Udortseva and Nikolai Udoratin call Yelfimov “padre.” It’s not a joking nickname or a reference to his role in the Komi movement: Sergey is simply a Lutheran pastor. “My path to the faith was a long one. I’ve been leading the Church in the republic for about 20 years,” he explained. “Yes, they say one should keep the Kingdom of Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven separate, but I go to my parishioners — I have a lot of Komi parishioners — and they tell me about their woes. I’m Komi — they’re my people. When [our opponents] mention that bit, they always immediately add something about [U.S.] State Department money.” According to Yelfimov, that’s not the only secret sponsor the activists are frequently assigned; rivals also accuse them of drawing funding from the national Communist Party and, for some reason, the Kremlin. “I have one question: Where can I get some of that money?” Yelfimov told me, laughing.

In the last year, the pastor and his friends haven’t just resurrected Doryam Asnymos. They’ve also earned fame and authority in their republic. For example, Nikolai Udoratin’s name has spread along with a video of him that went viral: In it, the activist is picketing against trash delivery to the North when he is approached by police officers who address him in Russian. Udoratin responds to their requests for his address and identifying information in Komi, leaving the officers to exchange blank looks. A stream of positive comments accompanies the video on YouTube.

Even earlier, in June 2019, Udoratin spoke onstage at the first mass protest against the Shiyes landfill. At one point in his speech, he began chanting, “Tyrmas! Tyrmas!” And the crowd of about 5,000 soon began shouting “Enough!” in Komi along with him.

Activists are pursuing control of a pro-government ethnic organization — and with it, legislative power

Doryam Asnymos’s most immediate goal is to win a majority in the official Komi movement, Komi Voityr. Since the fall, cities and towns throughout the republic have held meetings where residents choose delegates for district-level conferences. Those conferences then select delegates for the organization’s general convention. Doryam Asnymos hopes to send 80 or 90 of its own activists to that convention, which includes 208 delegates total. Those 208 will select 17 members for an executive committee, the leadership structure for Komi Voityr, which in turn chooses the director of the entire operation.

Komi Voityr isn’t just any nonprofit organization: The Constitution of the Komi Republic gives it the right to introduce legislation in the State Council. In theory, it’s an influential body, one capable of speaking on behalf of the entire Komi nation. “A lot of people think that Komi Voityr is just about going out in traditional costumes in front of the governor, dancing a little, and that’s it. But it’s actually a chance to initiate legislation, a chance to resist illegal logging, oil spills. This movement has the right to regulate, the right to make demands!” Galina Udortseva told Meduza. “Not just to ask!” added Sergey Yelfimov.

In rural villages, Yelfimov, Udortseva, and Udoratin have had a more difficult time gathering support for their efforts to advance in Komi Voityr than they have in Syktyvkar. Doryam Asnymos candidates from the regional capital reach the conference stages far more frequently than their counterparts in other Komi districts. The activists say this disparity is due entirely to the activities of public figures with ties to the regional government. In numerous cases, they have kept the place and time of local voting sessions secret while ensuring that their own candidates take part. “For 30 years, Komi Voityr has been under the government’s control, but in the city [i.e. in Syktyvkar], that control has already started to slip away. The proportion [of our supporters and pro-government activists at Syktyvkar conferences] is about 50 – 50. At one of the most recent sessions, 200 people showed up, and that was just in one neighborhood of the city!” Sergey Yelfimov told me by way of illustrating the capital’s sociopolitical revival.

Oleg Mikhailov, the lead secretary of the Communist Party committee for the Komi Republic and the head of the Communist faction in the State Council, argued that the region’s official indigenous organization must be modernized because “the official voice of the Komi movement isn’t being heard right now,” and the republic’s central government has made public figures toe its own party line by appointing loyalists to leadership positions in Komi Voityr. “Here in the republic, we had at least three initiatives from the government that were anti-national in nature,” Mikhailov continued, moving into campaigning mode: “They canceled daycare benefits for all parents and only kept them for the extremely needy. It was a major issue: There were protests [in 2017] in Syktyvkar and Ukhta. Housing and utilities benefits were monetized [in 2016] — benefits for village teachers, for example. What did Komi Voityr say about that issue? As though it has nothing to do with them. There was no voice from the Komi movement! And I’m not going to talk about the [2018 federal] pension reform even though we have unique work conditions here in the North.”

There’s another painful subject in the republic, the 2018 federal law that cancelled all mandatory indigenous language classes in Russian schools, for which Komi Voityr did offer a response. Before the law passed on the national level, the movement’s representatives met with the regional education minister at the time. She said Komi language classes would be preserved in the republic’s schools. Mikhailov believes that even though Komi political leaders did act in that situation, they acted too reticently. “They might start chirping something quietly, but for the government to hear, you can’t just squeak around their gates; you have to jab them in the nose so that they see these problems,” the republic’s Communist Party head insisted.

Mikhailov attends Komi Voityr meetings himself, both when the body selects delegates for municipal conferences and when the conferences themselves choose delegates for the regional body as a whole. The Communist Party leader campaigns for candidates who don’t have ties to the republic’s central government. He was also a delegate himself at Syktyvkar’s November 29 conference, where 12 Doryam Asnymos members moved on to the regional conference level, and nine made it into Syktyvkar’s Komi Voityr executive committee. To say the least, that effort wasn’t easy. “The conference was in City Hall. There was a police squadron on the way in [by the entrance to the building], and there were private security officers inside the building doing face control. They didn’t just let everybody in. Some of our activists also weren’t allowed to take time off work, but a lot of them left anyway [to take part in the conference],” Sergey Yelfimov said.

Nikolai Bratenkov, 2015.
Nikolai Bratenkov’s VKontakte page

Former Komi State Council Deputy Nikolai Bratenkov founded an ecological movement called the Pechora Rescue Committee in the late 1980s. Now, he lives in Izhma (population circa 3,750), a district capital in the far north where almost 90 percent of local residents are Komi. Bratenkov has served as the head of the Izhma District government multiple times, from 1993 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2007. He commands significant authority in the Komi movement, and he has also been involved in the campaign to replace Komi Voityr’s leadership. “[If new leaders are elected], that will be an opportunity to put pressure on the Republic’s government and on Lukoil [a major oil company that drills in the region]. Until now, the government has tried to bring all the indigenous organizations under its own control, whether through gifts or through pressure. How are we going to keep living? Are we going to just lie down obediently in this boat like we do now, or are we going to stand up tall with the understanding that we might rock it?” he asked.

Emilia Bratenkova is an editor for Miyan Izhma, the most popular website and VKontakte group in town. Both she and her husband are deputies in the republic-wide conference of Komi Voityr, though both were elected in Syktyvkar, not at home in Izhma. Bratenkova told me that in her district, where almost the entire population speaks Komi and has a skeptical attitude toward the government, the time and place for the local Komi Voityr meeting were not widely publicized. Only those with strong government ties showed up, and they elected loyalist delegates. Nonetheless, Bratenkova expressed hope that even those delegates will vote for new faces because “there are people with good common sense in a lot of the districts.”

Alexey Gabov, the leader of Komi Voityr’s region-wide executive committee, responded to my request for an interview by saying he was on a business trip and would not be in Syktyvkar for several days. He declined to speak over the phone.

A district-level Communist Party victory is inspiring new opposition campaigns

The Izhma District is located approximately 550 kilometers (342 miles) north of Syktyvkar. That’s a car ride of seven or eight hours. There is a train that runs northward from the capital, but it only goes as far as Irayol station, leaving about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of car or minibus travel to Izhma.

“One could say that Izhma is an island. The road to the regional capital was only built in 1999, so our society here is pretty closed off,” Nikolai Bratenkov said of his hometown.

Time passes differently here: Bratenkov pointed out that even in the Soviet era, “kulak and merchant houses” — two- or three-story buildings from before the Stalinist period — were left standing. Some of them are still standing today. Emilia Bratenkova added, “After the collapse of the USSR, the collective farms held on for a long time here even as they were dying out in the rest of the country and the republic.” Most people living in the district are indigenous Komi, and Komi is generally the language used in local institutions, in stores, and in the streets.

The Komi people first reached the Izhma area in the 17th century as Russian colonization forced them out of villages to the south. Only the most daring and resilient members of the community made the journey here. They quickly established relationships with their new Nenets neighbors and, like the Nenets, began herding reindeer. Leather production and trading were also prevalent. Izhma became a wealthy town, and its geographic remoteness enabled its residents to keep the Komi language and culture alive. The Bratenkovs acknowledge that “the ethnic question isn’t as urgent here as it is in the rest of the republic.”

Those who live in Izhma today have another concern: economic decline. They don’t hide their opinion of the government in that context — in the September 2019 elections for the Izhma District legislature, Communist Party candidates took eight of the 20 available seats. United Russia, the ruling party nationwide, earned only six seats, A Just Russia got one, and the five remaining delegates were independents. Because the vote was sorted by precinct rather than through party lists, every Communist Party nominee ultimately received a seat.

Nikolai Bratenkov would likely have been elected as a ninth deputy from the Communist Party, but he was taken off the ballot, allegedly because he remained an official member of United Russia. Bratenkov himself argues that he left the party long ago. During the election campaign, he gave evidence to a judge that he had left the party and brought in witnesses who are still in United Russia, but to no avail. Now, Bratenkov nonetheless acts as a kind of informal leader for the Communist team.

“People are tired of the ruling party’s lies. On TV, everything’s okay, and in the papers too, but that’s not how it really is,” said Dmitry Kanev, one of the Communist deputies from Izhma, when asked to explain the latest opposition victory. His central argument to show that people here are dissatisfied with their lives is that in the 1970s, 25,000 people lived in the Izhma District, but now, that number is only 17,000.

An aerial view of the town of Izhma and the Izhma River.
Yury Osetrov / TASS
Izhma in 2015.
Kirill Shuchalin / 7x7
Izhma residents celebrate the holiday of Lud.
Yelena Bobrova / Photobank Lori

According to Olga Chuprova, another Communist delegate, “every development project in the Izhma District consists of celebrating holidays. You celebrate one and immediately start getting ready for the next.” She added with frustration that local bureaucrats have started “passing off routine repairs as government achievements — not even, say, building new playgrounds for the children, just repairing wooden sidewalks!” Chuprova previously served in the district government herself as a bureaucrat in the architecture division.

“United Russia spent the [election] campaign driving around all the towns and villages here, saying, ‘Don’t elect those people — there won’t be any money in the district!’ But it’s not as though there was anything being built here to begin with. There aren’t even design documents [for the infrastructure in need of repair], and you need those documents to get federal money,” Chuprova said.

The district needs money for a range of projects, including a new school. The current school building is made of bits and pieces that were installed at various points, including an original section built in the 1930s.

Dmitry Kanev would like for a new ski facility to be built in Izhma. The city gave rise to a string of champion skiers in the past, like Olympic champions Vasily Rochev and Raisa Smetanina. “They say there’s no money in the budget, but you can include a deficit — a lot of [districts] do it that way. I will not accept a budget like this [i.e. without funding for construction],” the deputy vowed.

On December 10, the deputies managed to disrupt the selection process for Izhma’s city manager, a role appointed by district and regional deputies and confirmed on the local level. The appointing commission, half of which was occupied by regional-level deputies, rejected three independent competitors for the city manager role, including former district head Igor Norkin, who had the Communist Party’s support. The only names left on the ballot were that of incumbent District Head Lyubov Terentyeva and a spoiler candidate. However, nine of the ballots submitted were marked in ways that made them uncountable.

“We kicked him out ourselves!” Nikolai Bratenkov laughed, referring to his favorite for the job, Igor Norkin. “He’s from Ukhta [another Komi town], and he started bringing a bunch of companies from Ukhta to here. Then, they replaced him with a local [district head] whose work is really so-so. Norkin knows what he’s doing. If he wins, then we’ll be controlling his every move, and so will the folks from United Russia, and that’s a very good thing.”

Now, the district is preparing for a new competition in which the Communist Party deputies will once again try to pull their candidate through. Emilia Bratenkova, who was a District Council candidate in the body’s previous session, said the group’s first, unsuccessful attempt did not disappoint her. She recalled that Igor Norkin was elected in 2011 in the district’s third straight attempt to choose a leader. “The administration brought in someone who was just an unknown entity, so we left [the room in protest] and voted against them,” she explained.

Izhma District Head Lyubov Terentyeva declined to speak with Meduza. Igor Norkin responded to our request for comment curtly, saying only that he would put his name forward in the next city manager competition.

How the campaign against the Shiyes landfill united Communist and the Komi activists

Locals in Izhma may say they essentially live on an island, but they hardly isolate themselves from events in the rest of the republic. Nikolai Bratenkov has traveled in person to visit the Shiyes train station, where the new landfill is meant to be constructed. Even though the station is 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Izhma, Bratenkov decided that the planned dump poses a threat to him and his neighbors. Deputy Dmitry Kanev noted, “When the federal center wants to bring in a little ‘gift’ of garbage from Moscow, that doesn’t just injure our pride. We want to live in a clean environment.”

In Syktyvkar, activists are even more concerned about the landfill. However, whenever I asked them about it, the conversation quickly seemed to swerve from ecology to other topics: the relationship between the region and the federal center and the problem of keeping the Komi language alive.

Nikolai Udoratin of Doryam Asnymos argued that if anybody is enabling separatist sentiment to rise in the Komi Republic, it’s Moscow. “They send us trash, and they take away resources,” he declared. What that means in practice, he said, is fewer resources on the individual level: “It has never been the case that pensions were lower in the North than they were in Moscow, but now, that’s how it is. Even with a markup, pensions and wages are sometimes lower here than they are in Krasnodar.”

Sergey Yelfimov has an even more deeply meaningful issue on his mind. “Shiyes is our land. Originally, it’s a Komi name, Siyes Yol [meaning crooked river], that turned into Shiyes later on. This is the land of our ancestors. They are standing and watching us.” Both activists bristle at their opponents’ assertions that the Komi ethnic movement is taking a separatist turn. “The trolls write that on social media, and official media channels hint at it, too. But we tell them right away: ‘Can you prove where we said or wrote something that way? And that’s it, you’ve got nothing to say at all!’” Udoratin explained with indignance.

In State Council Deputy Oleg Mikhailov’s opinion, the landfill construction plan “isn’t an ecological issue at all — it’s a political issue.” “The premise itself — we’re going to bring you garbage — provokes a predictable reaction. The center is unjust toward Russia’s federal subjects and the people who live in them. What are we, second-class human beings, for you to build a dump where we live? Could we build a dump in your backyard? We’re a region that produces a lot of resources. Last year, we paid 151 billion ($2.47 billion) in taxes. To you, we’re money, resources, even just pictures. All the best things go out there! And we just get Moscow’s trash,” said Mikhailov, emotion suffusing his voice.

In our interview, the Communist Party leader used the word “injustice” several times. He soon explained that the ecological consequences of building a landfill in Shiyes must also be taken into account, but “the priority is still going to be the issue of relations” between the regions and the federal center. “I’m against the words ‘we’re offended.’ What does offended mean? We have to fight. They’ve hit us in the face, and we’re just offended? We can answer them back, too,” Mikhailov said.

The deputy believes that on a tactical level, the opposition has begun racking up wins over the government because the republic’s political leadership and the structures close to it were unable to react to the problems that have made their constituents so anxious. “When the official reps from Komi Voityr stay quiet, Doryam Asnymos brings up those issues and, naturally, attracts more people,” the politician explained.

According to Pavel Andreyev, the executive director of the Syktyvkar-based news outlet 7x7, the outrage that followed the 2018 ban on mandatory language education “was ordinary.” After Shiyes, though, “it was impossible to remain silent.” He said, “whichever politicians don’t remain silent see dividends for it.”

Igor Sazhin, who leads the Komi branch of the human rights organization Memorial, is one of the republic’s most prominent rights advocates. He called the construction of a landfill in the taiga “a catastrophe for locals.” “They spend a lot of time in the forest. Meat has to come from the forest, fish have to come from the forest — if it’s from domestic [animals], it’s not meat to them,” Sazhin explained.

Oleg Mikhailov believes Shiyes will be the “last straw” before a protest movement rises and brings the question of ethnic politics in the republic to a head. The first straw, in his opinion, was the transition from mandatory Komi language lessons to elective ones. “Back then, there was no Shiyes, but the issue was already out there. Of course, in places like Vorkuta or Inta where the non-indigenous population lives, people openly say, ‘What do we need this language for?’ If you live here, you’re going to stay here, and you’re not about to move, then respect the traditions of the local population. If I were to move to any European country and I wanted to live there, I would have to learn the language,” Mikhailov argued. He said he is half Komi.

The Communists and their allies assert that one of the republic’s greatest problems is the question of how to carry forward the culture of its eponymous nation. For that reason, they want to bring mandatory Komi language study back into the region’s schools. “If that issue doesn’t move forward, then Komi will turn from a republic into just another region [oblast]. But we have to save the republic. Regardless of what ethnicity a person here comes from, they care about making sure the republic lives on: It gives us a different level of conversation with the center, and everyone who lives here benefits from that status,” Nikolai Bratenkov said.

Dmitry Kanev, the deputy from Izhma, acknowledged that he barely spoke Russian until he began his mandatory military service. “You know, I could understand it well enough, but it was hard for me to talk,” he told me with a slightly embarrassed smile. “We want to keep our language, our culture, not to get lost in the crowd and assimilate with it.”

The Syktyvkar activists even take a critical stance toward the persistent expression “the Russian North.” In Russian, that’s russky sever, with russky referring to the Russian ethnic group. “It’s the rossiysky sever, not russky!” Galina Udortseva noted, using an adjective that refers instead to the Russian state. “The people living here are Russian, Nenets, Komi, Sámi. When people come here for Shiyes protests from Urdoma [in the Arkhangelsk region], they try not to say the word russky. In national republics, that kind of thing is a big deal.”

Another factor pushing more people in the republic toward the Komi activists and the Communist Party is the fact that the current governor is Sergey Gaplikov. He’s a professional bureaucrat who worked in the prefecture of Moscow’s Eastern District, in Chuvashia’s regional executive branch, and in the federal executive branch. Gaplikov previously led Olimpstroi, a state corporation that ran construction projects leading up to the Sochi Olympics. When those projects had wrapped up, the Kremlin sent Gaplikov to Komi. That was in 2016. There had only been two other post-Soviet governors in the republic before Gaplikov, and both of them had grown up in the region. Opposition activists like to emphasize that Gaplikov filled key posts in his government with people like him — outsiders — and that the governor himself spends most of his time not in Syktyvkar, but in Moscow.

“The republic is like the colonies that the European countries had. The person at the helm is a governor general, a politician on tour who was sent from the metropolis to work for a while and then leave,” Nikolai Udoratin told Meduza. Sergey Yelfimov added, “The local government here is all Moscow plants. People here don’t see actual federalism.”

Nikolai Udoratin (center, blue poster) marches in a protest in Syktyvkar. June 2, 2019
Doryam Asnymos’s VKontakte page

Mikhailov, the Communist leader, says the situation is analogous to that of certain republics in the late Soviet period. He specifically recalled the mid-1980s in Kazakhstan. “It was the appointment of outsiders to lead the national republics that started the whole [collapse of the USSR]. Before Gaplikov, at least the governors actually built their careers here, but he’s completely imported. Every year, the State Council holds seven to nine hearings, but the governor comes exactly once a year, when he has to give a report. [During protests], people stand on the doorstep of the republic’s executive headquarters and shout ‘Gaplikov, resign!’ but he doesn’t care. The most important thing is that everybody who’s more or less politically active understands that these people are temporary, they’re on tour, and they’ll all leave in the end. Why does United Russia behave this way [i.e. support the regional government]? He’s going to leave, and you’ll still be here!” the deputy fumed.

In 2020, the Komi Republic will face both a round of State Council elections and new elections in 17 of the region’s 20 districts. Komi activists are counting on victories in a slew of those races. Nikolai Udoratin is planning to run for a State Council seat in Syktyvkar himself. The Communists also have big hopes for the upcoming election campaign. “On September 8 [2019], 70 seats were under contention in the district elections, and we took 14 of them. In the Izhma District, though, all eight of our candidates who were allowed to register went through. In the Knyazhpogostsky District, it was six out of 10,” Oleg Mikhailov said.

Communist Party politicians believe their own candidates will now have an easier time winning in the republic than candidates from United Russia. “Opposition sentiment here is very strong,” the journalist Pavel Andreyev agreed. “A lot of local candidates might win because of the Shiyes ordeal. Trust in the government is at a minimum.”

Igor Sazhin of Memorial sees the Komi activists’ advance in Komi Voityr as an initial step toward broader political prominence: “If they’re putting the republic’s bureaucracy into play on the level of the Komi Voityr elections, then they’ll want political success, too.” The official Komi organization’s conference will take place in February.

Reporting by Andrey Pertsev, Syktyvkar, Izhma

Editing by Vladislav Gorin

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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