Russian government decided to disband the Ministry for regional development. Various explanations are being discussed, among them the cuts in government apparatus, desire to avoid doubling of administrative responsibilities or the top officials’ tiredness of the constant requests made by the now ex-minister, Mr. Slyunyayev. But the Russian prime-minister Dmitry Medvedev spoke in a different way during one of his recent meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin. He said that in accordance with the latter’s recent decrees “over the recent period of time administrative bodies were established, which now take care of the various economic and social programs based on a territorial approach, i.e. the Ministry for development of the Far East, Ministry for development of Crimea, Ministry for development of Northern Caucasus. Thus, in effect, we to some extent switched to the territorial principle of administration and this gives some results so far. We have also established a ministry, which is in charge of construction. Thus many of the competences of the Ministry of regional development were divided among different ministries”.
As far as the cuts in administrative apparatus go, I’m all for it. But the very shift towards “territorial principle of administration” bothers me. Northern Caucasus, no doubt, deserves a specialized ministry, but the question remains how the new federal authorities, which are also “territorial”, will work parallel to the existing regional ones. Crimea is also probably considered by some as a burnt ground, as some tabula rasa, where no “territorial” authorities supposedly existed and probably the new ministry should fill in this gap. But what about the Far East? And if we use the same approach, shouldn’t we also create a specialized ministry for Belgorod region or Tatarstan?
However, I would like to talk of people who do not have a bordered territory of their own, Roma people. As we all know, they live in all Russian regions. Over the two recent years due to the ongoing efforts of the human rights defenders and the pressure that was put onto Russia by the international organizations, the government started paying at least some attention to problems of Roma, although this remained not enough and sometimes was done in a quite inadequate fashion. But it was the Ministry of regional development that Roma people were officially put in charge. Ministry officials made impressive speeches at various international meetings, stated that a governmental Plan of measures for socio-economic and ethno-cultural development of Russian Roma for the period of 20-13-2014 was adopted, that Roma in Russia were given care and support. It was also the Ministry of regional development that was officially in charge of the problems of inter-ethnic relations in Russia. It was the department of the state policy in inter-ethnic relations of the ex-Ministry of regional development that was in charge of this. Currently this fragment of the ministry, which was in charge of the defense of the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous people of Russia, is being moved into different structures. It is likely that this department, not unlike a Roma nomadic tribe, will be moved into the Russian Ministry of culture, which is in charge of all things “national” and “ethnic”. One can only imagine, looking at the figure of the current culture minister, that “inter-ethnic” problems will be taken care of in a very specific way and all the talk of “defending rights” should be forgotten – you can hope for songs and dances, at best.
It should be acknowledged that the Ministry of regional development was a rather artificial institution and that the activities of its department for inter-ethnic relations were also subject to a strong bias in favor of Orthodox religion and supporting Cossack organizations, while ethnic minorities didn’t get enough attention. But what will happen now with the problems of Roma people and the need to improve their very troubled situation? Should they be simply singing their folk songs and waving colorful skirts under the wing of the Ministry of culture, putting on a display of peoples’ friendship? Or should Roma children be provided with secondary education (at least!), should Roma houses in compact settlements be legalized and should arbitrary evictions of Roma settlements be stopped, while the most urgent problem – that of providing Roma people with proper identity documents – be finally solved? Russia can establish an inter-ministerial commission on Roma affairs, as was done in Hungary. Currently the problems of Russian Roma are being dealt with by the ministries of construction, economic development and culture, the three heirs of the deceased Ministry of regional development. We hope that the problem of defending ethnic minorities’ rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, which was not dealt with adequately and actively in the past, will not simply disappear from the agenda.
by Olga Abramenko