Main languages: Russian

Main religions: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Shamanism

According to the 2010 national census, the main minority groups include Tatars 5,310,649 (3.87 per cent), Ukrainians 1,927,988 (1.4 per cent), Bashkirs 1,584,554 (1.15 per cent), Chuvash 1,435,872 (1.05 per cent), Chechens 1,431,360 (1.04 per cent), Armenians 1,182,388 (0.86 per cent), Avars 912,090 (0.66 per cent) and Mordovans 744,237 (0.54 per cent) The remaining 8.5 per cent of the population is made up of numerous other, much smaller, ethnicities. While the total population in Russia is 142,856,536, only 137,227,107 responded about their ethnic origin in the census and so the population sizes produced are calculated from the latter figure.

 

The 2010 census lists 193 ethnic groups (and subgroups) besides Russians. While ethnic Russians tend to identify with the Russian Orthodox faith, in 2010 there were over 16.4 million Muslims in Russia, in addition to people affiliated to numerous other faiths. The Russian language is spoken by nearly the entire citizenry (99.49 per cent), and the Russian language and culture overall dominate the country’s public life. According to official figures, 277 languages were spoken in Russia in 2010, of which 39 were languages of instruction in schools and 50 were taught as subjects.

 

Minorities that have been granted territorial recognition can be broadly divided into two categories: religious and linguistic minorities. This distinction does not reflect any official division between groups based on religion or language, but rather the primary element around which group self-identity is formed in each case. Religiously defined groups form the largest set of minorities. The Russian Federation (RF) contains a number of Buddhist groups, mostly of the Lamaist faith, including Buriats, Kalmyks, Tuvans. Since the late 1980s, there has been a strong revival of Buddhism.

There are also substantial Muslim populations, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a revival of Islam and Muslim culture. Most Muslims are of the Sunni branch of Islam. A number of Muslim political parties have been formed. The territorially based Muslims can be subdivided into two main geographical groups: Tatars and Bashkirs of the Middle Volga, and peoples of the North Caucasus.

Dagestan in the North Caucasus is one of the most ethnically complex areas of the former Soviet Union. The republic has no titular population. Except for Russians, the largest groups – Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins – are all Sunni Muslim.

Linguistically defined groups form the second main category of minorities. There were 19 Finno-Ugric peoples listed in the 2010 census. While according to the census results, there are nearly 2.4 million Finno-Ugrians in the Russian Federation, they are only in the majority in Komi-Permiak.

There are substantial variations in the conditions of different minorities and indigenous peoples within the Russian Federation. A first basic distinction can be made between those groups belonging to ‘titular nationalities’ and ‘non-titular nationalities’ (in this report ‘nationality’ is used in the sense of ‘ethnic group’, as per the Russian natsional’nost’). Titular nationalities are those that had a territory assigned to them during the Soviet period. The resulting territorial units made the transition into the post-Soviet period, e.g. the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic became the Republic of Tatarstan, one of the constituent parts of the present Russian Federation. Before the annexation of Crimea, there were 21 ethnic republics out of a total of 83 territorial units (subiekti, or ‘subjects’) of the Russian Federation – a number that has now risen to 22 republics and 85 territorial units, though the additions are still recognized internationally as Ukrainian territory.

However, the conditions of the republics vary greatly, particularly with regard to the ratio of representatives of titular nationalities versus ethnic Russians residing within their borders. For example, within the Republic of Tatarstan, Tatars are a numerical majority, outnumbering ethnic Russians (53.2 per cent Tatars versus 39.7 per cent Russians). In the case of the Republic of Karelia, Karelians are a very small numerical minority: 7.4 per cent versus 82.2 per cent Russians, according to the 2010 Census. Titular nationalities in ethnic republics benefit from a range of rights. Among other things, the republics can pass constitutions that protect the right of titular languages and cultures; and schools provide teaching of, and at times through the medium of, titular languages. However, the benefits arising from titularity are correlated to local conditions, such as strength of numbers, and the territorial concentration of persons belonging to the titular nationality. In the case of Karelia, the concrete advantages deriving from titularity are minor, given that, as noted, Karelians are only a very small numerical minority within the republic. Moreover, many persons belonging to ethnic groups live outside their ‘own’ republics. For example, only 2 million of Russia’s 5.3 million Tatars reside in the Republic of Tatarstan.

Other minorities do not benefit from having a territorial unit within the Russian Federation and therefore only have a limited degree of autonomy. Some of these minorities have kin-states that were once Soviet republics, such as Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Georgians and persons from Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Among the many groups that lack an officially recognized homeland are Jews; Russian or Volga Germans; Meskhetians or Meskhetian Turks; Roma; Cossacks; and most of the smaller indigenous peoples of the north, Siberia and Far East.

 

The indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East are placed in a separate category. Russian law refers to them as ‘small-in-number’ as the number of persons belonging to each such group does not exceed 50,000. Russian federal legislation grants them special rights with regard to land and the preservation of their traditional way of life. However, obstacles are often encountered in the exercising of these rights, and in the enjoyment of the protection formally afforded to indigenous peoples by Russian legislation. Moreover, standards of living, as well as levels of education, tend to be lower than for the rest of the population. Official documents list 46 different indigenous peoples. The biggest community is the Nenets with 44,640 people; the smallest have only a few hundred representatives or even fewer (two groups have fewer than 100 members).

 

According to the 2010 census, there are 205,000 Roma in Russia. Their communities generally face sub-standard living conditions, difficulties in socio-economic integration and, at times, segregation of children in schools. Both migrant and Roma settlements have been targeted by law-enforcement officials.

 

Many immigrants enter Russia to work, particularly with a view to sending financial help to their families in their countries of origin. According to data of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), in 2013 Russia was the second recipient (after the United States) of international migrants – 11 million out of a total of 232 million international migrants worldwide. The 2010 census recorded 11.2 million people born outside Russia and 865,000 foreigners permanently residing in Russia, of which 42 per cent were from Central Asia. There is much demand and reliance on foreign workers in the Russian economy, especially in light of the demographic decline of the Russian population. There are, however, very high levels of immigration that are not legalized, due to the highly bureaucratic and burdensome nature of the procedures to obtain work permits and residence registration.

 

According to estimates by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2009 there were 50,000 stateless persons in Russia. The Council of Europe has devoted considerable attention to the fate of Meskhetian Turks, who are among the stateless persons residing in Russia. This minority was deported from Georgia to Central Asia in the Soviet period and left Central Asia in 1989 over security concerns. They resettled in various regions, including in Russia (especially Krasnodar Krai), and experienced difficulties in obtaining Russian citizenship in the post-Soviet period. According to figures provided by the Russian authorities, nearly all Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai have been granted Russian citizenship; however, this fact is disputed by human rights activists, who argue that in the south of Russia hundreds of persons have still not been granted Russian citizenship, despite repeated appeals to the local authorities. They can only rely on passports of the defunct USSR as a means of basic identification. Between 2004 and 2007 approximately 11,000 Meskhetian Turks emigrated to the United States thanks to a resettlement programme. The stateless persons who remain in Krasnodar Krai suffer from widespread discrimination: in addition to Meskhetian Turks, other minorities have suffered a similar fate – Batumi Kurds, Hemshils and Yezidis.

 

According to the 2010 census, nearly 20 per cent of the Russian Federation’s population identify themselves as belonging to ethnic groups other than the Russian majority and there are more than 190 recognized in the country, including indigenous peoples. Diversity is entrenched in the very structure of the Federation, with 21 ethnic republics in which local languages are recognized as official alongside Russian. Despite this, under President Vladimir Putin an emphasis has been placed – in official discourse, the education system and the media – on national unity and Russian patriotism. This has been reflected in the increasing attrition of a range of rights for minorities and indigenous peoples in the country, from language and land rights to freedom of expression and security. This is against a broader backdrop of state repression that has seen many basic rights rolled back in recent years, particularly in areas where the state is actively engaged in conflict.

 

The invasion of eastern Ukraine in February 2014 and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by the Russian authorities were accompanied by a crackdown on human rights in Crimea that mirrors the government’s increasing repression of Russian citizens, particularly minorities and indigenous peoples, within its own borders. The ongoing conflict, waged by ‘separatists’ against Ukraine with the support of the Russian military, resulted in 478 civilian deaths in 2017 and has been characterized by frequent human rights violations. The Russian authorities, who now hold primarily responsibility for the protection of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea due to their de facto control of the region, have instead contributed to the deteriorating security environment by actively targeting activists, particularly those belonging to the indigenous Tatar population.

 

The autonomous republics of the North Caucasus, an ethnically diverse, Muslim majority region home to a total of roughly 15 million people, have been the site of ethnically and religiously-based insurgencies since the fall of the former USSR. Repressive governance in the region takes a particular toll on women and LGBTQ persons. Russian national law arguably infringes on women’s and LGBTQ rights – in 2016 Russia decriminalized domestic violence other than those resulting in broken bones, while the notorious ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law remained in place – but local government practices add another layer of risk for these groups. Domestic violence in the North Caucasus, which surveys indicate far exceeds the national average, is governed by three sets of law – customary, Shari’a, and Russian federal law – all of which are open to interpretation. Meanwhile, human rights organizations have documented a systematic campaign by Chechen authorities to arrest, torture and even kill anyone suspected of homosexuality.

 

Political struggles in the North Caucasus, including extended periods of conflict in Chechnya and security operations in neighbouring republics, have also stoked hostility and conflict against North Caucasians migrating within the Russian Federation. Migrants from other minority communities face similar hostility, reinforced by nationalist rhetoric in political and public discourse that draws a divide between ethnic Russians and other ethnic groups. Xenophobic sentiment is also directed towards the millions of Central Asian labourers working in Russia, who are also regularly vilified as ‘illegal immigrants’. As a result, there have been regular incidents of violence targeting mainly non-Slavs, including migrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as people of African origin. According to the Moscow-based SOVA Center, around 5 people were killed and 66 wounded in racist and neo-Nazi attacks during 2017; while this represents a decline from the last few years, the patterns of attacks nevertheless highlights the persistent prejudice that minorities and migrants face. Most of the victims were of Central Asian origin, though attacks on people of Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan African origin were also recorded.

 

While there is much demand and reliance on foreign workers in the Russian market, especially in light of the demographic decline of the Russian population, there are high levels of immigration that are not legalized due to the highly bureaucratic and burdensome nature of the procedures to obtain work permits and residence registration. In recent years, the conditions for migrant workers have continued to deteriorate: regulations are continuously modified and are becoming increasingly restrictive. In addition to the bureaucratic hurdles involved in obtaining work and residence permits, since 2013 law enforcement officials have used particularly repressive means to crack down on illegal immigration. Measures have included police raids and the rounding up of people on the basis of their ‘non-Slavic appearance’. The absence of registration or even identity documents has made migrants – and some particularly disadvantaged minorities such as Roma – vulnerable to police abuse, leading to illegal searches, arbitrary detention and extortion of bribes. This official persecution has emboldened ultranationalist groups to carry out their own attacks on migrants and ethnic minorities in a form of vigilantism seeking to combat crimes allegedly perpetrated by these groups.

 

The right to freedom of religion of some minorities in Russia is at times restricted, through arbitrary application of legislation and discrimination by the government, judges and the police. Among others, those most affected are some Protestant and ‘non-traditional’ religious groups (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses), given that their teachings are often regarded as a possible threat to stability. In July 2016, President Putin approved a package of new ‘anti-terror’ measures, commonly known as the ‘Yarovaya laws’, that have been widely criticized by human rights organizations. One measure prohibits ‘missionary work’ outside of a list of designated areas including religious buildings and cemeteries; convicted violators are subject to fines of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles (roughly US$80 – US$830). Russia’s slippery legal definition of missionary activity allows the law to be applied to almost any manifestation of religious belief.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to number roughly 170,000 in Russia, faced significant state pressure. In April 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the church ‘extremist’ and ordered its liquidation. The state may now legally seize the organization’s national headquarters and 395 sub-branches nationwide, while those who continue their religious practice may be subject to prosecution. Thanks to a ‘Yarovaya’ amendment that increases penalties for organizing and/or participating in a banned religious organization, the latter may face fines of between 2 and 4 years’ income or up to 10 years’ imprisonment. There have also been instances of harassment of Muslim communities practising non-traditional forms of Islam, particularly in the North Caucasus. Some Muslims and members of other religious communities have been detained and tried on criminal charges of extremism. In the North Caucasus region, security agencies have raided Salafi mosques and detained hundreds of congregants at a time.

 

The authorities continue to maintain tight control over the publication of any materials that are thought to contradict the government’s official stances. The federal authorities continue to update the Federal List of Extremist Materials: according to the SOVA Centre, it was updated 33 times during 2017, with the addition of 330 items (reaching a total of 4,345 proscribed materials). The banned materials, besides a significant portion of extremist nationalist output, also includes various religious texts such as Islamic and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature.

 

Another way that the state exerts considerable control over civil society is through restrictions on the funding of Russian NGOs by foreign organizations, including those protecting minority and indigenous peoples’ rights. Law No. 129-FZ (known as the law on ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations) was adopted on 23 May 2015: it targets foreign or international NGOs implementing ‘undesirable’ activities (representing a threat to the country’s ‘constitutional order, its defence potential or national security’). The law foresees the banning of organizations engaging in such activities and the prosecution of Russian activists or organizations involved with them, including those in receipt of their funding.

 

The provisions thus threaten the funds of minority and indigenous organizations from foreign entities. Obstacles to international funding continue the trend of 2012 provisions that require Russian NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’ when they receive funds from abroad and implement ‘political activities’. For example, the organization Nuori Karjala (Young Karelia), which promoted the languages and cultures of the Finno-Ugric indigenous communities of the Republic of Karelia, was included by the Ministry of Justice in the register of ‘foreign agents’. As a result the organization decided to cease activities in August 2015. The only non-Russian institution from which the organization had received funding was the UN, which had given a grant of US$10,000 for an education project.

 

Russia’s indigenous communities continue to be marginalized and remain vulnerable to land rights violations due to the state’s failure to designate specific ‘territories of traditional nature use’ (as foreseen by Russian law). There is often limited consultation with indigenous peoples on matters of interest to their communities and insufficient access to effective remedies in case of rights violations. In some cases, the judiciary has targeted indigenous human rights defenders. Russia’s soaring oil production has affected many indigenous communities, particularly in Siberia and the Far North. In October 2016, for example, authorities in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region re-zoned a nature reserve at Lake Numto, a holy site for the Khanty people, to allow oil drilling, despite reported local opposition. The elimination in 2013 of a legal requirement for oil and gas companies to perform official consultations with indigenous populations before starting drilling projects on land vital to their livelihoods paved the way for the re-zoning.

 

The poverty and exclusion of many indigenous communities takes a heavy toll. While Russia has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, indigenous youth in Siberia and the Far North, including the Buryat, Mari, Tuvan, Evenk, Udmurt, Altai and Yakut people, are disproportionately at risk. Siberian regions with large indigenous populations were the clear leaders in this grim statistic, with one, the Republic of Buryatia, posting a nearly 70 per cent per cent increase in youth suicide. The reasons for elevated suicide rates among these groups are unclear, but past studies have cited damage to ancestral lands by extractive industries, causing the loss of traditional cultures, and the difficulties of adapting to urbanization, in addition to factors like widespread unemployment and alcoholism.

 

Roma communities, one of the country’s most stigmatized communities, suffer sub-standard living conditions, significant social barriers and in some cases segregation of children in schools. Roma settlements have been targeted by law-enforcement officials. Furthermore, community members face serious problems in securing employment due to negative stereotyping and obstructions to renewing temporary residence permits. Lacking representatives in positions of authority, their political concerns have remained unheard: the economic, social and cultural rights of Roma are also violated through blocked access to housing, health care and education. Against this backdrop of profound discrimination, Roma are frequently the victims of racist violence.

According to the 2010 census, nearly 20 per cent of the Russian Federation’s population identify themselves as belonging to ethnic groups other than the Russian majority and there are more than 190 recognized in the country, including indigenous peoples. Diversity is entrenched in the very structure of the Federation, with 21 ethnic republics in which local languages are recognized as official alongside Russian. Despite this, under President Vladimir Putin an emphasis has been placed – in official discourse, the education system and the media – on national unity and Russian patriotism. This has been reflected in the increasing attrition of a range of rights for minorities and indigenous peoples in the country, from language and land rights to freedom of expression and security. This is against a broader backdrop of state repression that has seen many basic rights rolled back in recent years, particularly in areas where the state is actively engaged in conflict.

 

The invasion of eastern Ukraine in February 2014 and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by the Russian authorities were accompanied by a crackdown on human rights in Crimea that mirrors the government’s increasing repression of Russian citizens, particularly minorities and indigenous peoples, within its own borders. The ongoing conflict, waged by ‘separatists’ against Ukraine with the support of the Russian military, resulted in 478 civilian deaths in 2017 and has been characterized by frequent human rights violations. The Russian authorities, who now hold primarily responsibility for the protection of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea due to their de facto control of the region, have instead contributed to the deteriorating security environment by actively targeting activists, particularly those belonging to the indigenous Tatar population.

 

The autonomous republics of the North Caucasus, an ethnically diverse, Muslim majority region home to a total of roughly 15 million people, have been the site of ethnically and religiously-based insurgencies since the fall of the former USSR. Repressive governance in the region takes a particular toll on women and LGBTQ persons. Russian national law arguably infringes on women’s and LGBTQ rights – in 2016 Russia decriminalized domestic violence other than those resulting in broken bones, while the notorious ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law remained in place – but local government practices add another layer of risk for these groups. Domestic violence in the North Caucasus, which surveys indicate far exceeds the national average, is governed by three sets of law – customary, Shari’a, and Russian federal law – all of which are open to interpretation. Meanwhile, human rights organizations have documented a systematic campaign by Chechen authorities to arrest, torture and even kill anyone suspected of homosexuality.

 

Political struggles in the North Caucasus, including extended periods of conflict in Chechnya and security operations in neighbouring republics, have also stoked hostility and conflict against North Caucasians migrating within the Russian Federation. Migrants from other minority communities face similar hostility, reinforced by nationalist rhetoric in political and public discourse that draws a divide between ethnic Russians and other ethnic groups. Xenophobic sentiment is also directed towards the millions of Central Asian labourers working in Russia, who are also regularly vilified as ‘illegal immigrants’. As a result, there have been regular incidents of violence targeting mainly non-Slavs, including migrants from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as people of African origin. According to the Moscow-based SOVA Center, around 5 people were killed and 66 wounded in racist and neo-Nazi attacks during 2017; while this represents a decline from the last few years, the patterns of attacks nevertheless highlights the persistent prejudice that minorities and migrants face. Most of the victims were of Central Asian origin, though attacks on people of Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan African origin were also recorded.

 

While there is much demand and reliance on foreign workers in the Russian market, especially in light of the demographic decline of the Russian population, there are high levels of immigration that are not legalized due to the highly bureaucratic and burdensome nature of the procedures to obtain work permits and residence registration. In recent years, the conditions for migrant workers have continued to deteriorate: regulations are continuously modified and are becoming increasingly restrictive. In addition to the bureaucratic hurdles involved in obtaining work and residence permits, since 2013 law enforcement officials have used particularly repressive means to crack down on illegal immigration. Measures have included police raids and the rounding up of people on the basis of their ‘non-Slavic appearance’. The absence of registration or even identity documents has made migrants – and some particularly disadvantaged minorities such as Roma – vulnerable to police abuse, leading to illegal searches, arbitrary detention and extortion of bribes. This official persecution has emboldened ultranationalist groups to carry out their own attacks on migrants and ethnic minorities in a form of vigilantism seeking to combat crimes allegedly perpetrated by these groups.

 

The right to freedom of religion of some minorities in Russia is at times restricted, through arbitrary application of legislation and discrimination by the government, judges and the police. Among others, those most affected are some Protestant and ‘non-traditional’ religious groups (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses), given that their teachings are often regarded as a possible threat to stability. In July 2016, President Putin approved a package of new ‘anti-terror’ measures, commonly known as the ‘Yarovaya laws’, that have been widely criticized by human rights organizations. One measure prohibits ‘missionary work’ outside of a list of designated areas including religious buildings and cemeteries; convicted violators are subject to fines of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles (roughly US$80 – US$830). Russia’s slippery legal definition of missionary activity allows the law to be applied to almost any manifestation of religious belief.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to number roughly 170,000 in Russia, faced significant state pressure. In April 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the church ‘extremist’ and ordered its liquidation. The state may now legally seize the organization’s national headquarters and 395 sub-branches nationwide, while those who continue their religious practice may be subject to prosecution. Thanks to a ‘Yarovaya’ amendment that increases penalties for organizing and/or participating in a banned religious organization, the latter may face fines of between 2 and 4 years’ income or up to 10 years’ imprisonment. There have also been instances of harassment of Muslim communities practising non-traditional forms of Islam, particularly in the North Caucasus. Some Muslims and members of other religious communities have been detained and tried on criminal charges of extremism. In the North Caucasus region, security agencies have raided Salafi mosques and detained hundreds of congregants at a time.

 

The authorities continue to maintain tight control over the publication of any materials that are thought to contradict the government’s official stances. The federal authorities continue to update the Federal List of Extremist Materials: according to the SOVA Centre, it was updated 33 times during 2017, with the addition of 330 items (reaching a total of 4,345 proscribed materials). The banned materials, besides a significant portion of extremist nationalist output, also includes various religious texts such as Islamic and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature.

 

Another way that the state exerts considerable control over civil society is through restrictions on the funding of Russian NGOs by foreign organizations, including those protecting minority and indigenous peoples’ rights. Law No. 129-FZ (known as the law on ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations) was adopted on 23 May 2015: it targets foreign or international NGOs implementing ‘undesirable’ activities (representing a threat to the country’s ‘constitutional order, its defence potential or national security’). The law foresees the banning of organizations engaging in such activities and the prosecution of Russian activists or organizations involved with them, including those in receipt of their funding.

 

The provisions thus threaten the funds of minority and indigenous organizations from foreign entities. Obstacles to international funding continue the trend of 2012 provisions that require Russian NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’ when they receive funds from abroad and implement ‘political activities’. For example, the organization Nuori Karjala (Young Karelia), which promoted the languages and cultures of the Finno-Ugric indigenous communities of the Republic of Karelia, was included by the Ministry of Justice in the register of ‘foreign agents’. As a result the organization decided to cease activities in August 2015. The only non-Russian institution from which the organization had received funding was the UN, which had given a grant of US$10,000 for an education project.

 

Russia’s indigenous communities continue to be marginalized and remain vulnerable to land rights violations due to the state’s failure to designate specific ‘territories of traditional nature use’ (as foreseen by Russian law). There is often limited consultation with indigenous peoples on matters of interest to their communities and insufficient access to effective remedies in case of rights violations. In some cases, the judiciary has targeted indigenous human rights defenders. Russia’s soaring oil production has affected many indigenous communities, particularly in Siberia and the Far North. In October 2016, for example, authorities in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region re-zoned a nature reserve at Lake Numto, a holy site for the Khanty people, to allow oil drilling, despite reported local opposition. The elimination in 2013 of a legal requirement for oil and gas companies to perform official consultations with indigenous populations before starting drilling projects on land vital to their livelihoods paved the way for the re-zoning.

 

The poverty and exclusion of many indigenous communities takes a heavy toll. While Russia has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, indigenous youth in Siberia and the Far North, including the Buryat, Mari, Tuvan, Evenk, Udmurt, Altai and Yakut people, are disproportionately at risk. Siberian regions with large indigenous populations were the clear leaders in this grim statistic, with one, the Republic of Buryatia, posting a nearly 70 per cent per cent increase in youth suicide. The reasons for elevated suicide rates among these groups are unclear, but past studies have cited damage to ancestral lands by extractive industries, causing the loss of traditional cultures, and the difficulties of adapting to urbanization, in addition to factors like widespread unemployment and alcoholism.

 

Roma communities, one of the country’s most stigmatized communities, suffer sub-standard living conditions, significant social barriers and in some cases segregation of children in schools. Roma settlements have been targeted by law-enforcement officials. Furthermore, community members face serious problems in securing employment due to negative stereotyping and obstructions to renewing temporary residence permits. Lacking representatives in positions of authority, their political concerns have remained unheard: the economic, social and cultural rights of Roma are also violated through blocked access to housing, health care and education. Against this backdrop of profound discrimination, Roma are frequently the victims of racist violence.

 

The official discourse on diversity is built around the notion of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country. The Russian Constitution provides that ‘[t]he bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people’ (Article 3(1)). Although ethnic Russians tend to identify with the Russian Orthodox religion, four religions are recognized as the traditional religions of Russia (Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism). Minority and indigenous languages, and some minority religions such as Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, are taught in schools, and there are local and regional media outlets in the languages of minorities. However, the public discourse tends to have a patriotic slant, while prejudice reported through the media is widely documented.

 

Various provisions in Russian law uphold the right to equality, while discrimination is prohibited in particular sectors, for example through the Labour Code. However, Russia does not have comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, providing detailed provisions as well as a definition of discrimination. International bodies have repeatedly urged the Russian government to remedy this shortcoming, as well as to establish a dedicated, independent body to monitor and raise awareness of instances of discrimination. Although the number of cases brought to court for alleged discrimination has increased in recent years, judicial proceedings are still extremely rare when compared to reports of routine discrimination by both the public and private sectors. The low number of discrimination cases that reach Russian courts can be linked to a lack of awareness of discrimination, deficient legal remedies, and the limited trust in the authorities that should enforce them.

 

Some persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples are represented in elected bodies, through their membership of mainstream political parties. However, Russia has no special measures to guarantee the participatory rights of these groups in elected bodies, such as reserved seats in parliament for minority and indigenous representatives. Moreover, Russian legislation prohibits the establishment of political parties on the grounds of ethnic or religious identity.

 

Persons belonging to certain ethnic groups, particularly those who are visually conspicuous (of non-Slavic appearance) are routinely subjected to a plethora of rights violations. The most vulnerable are Roma and migrant workers, particularly those not in possession of legal documents to live and work in the region of Russia where they reside. This group also includes stateless persons and Russian citizens who have lost their documents or failed (or were unable) to register locally. The absence of documents places these persons in a condition of heightened vulnerability and defencelessness in counteracting possible police abuse – ranging from arbitrary detention, to intimidation, violence, threats, illegal searches and the extortion of bribes.

 

The difficulties experienced by Central Asian migrants in navigating the onerous bureaucracy required to work in Russia is notorious and has contributed to further abuses and discrimination. Persons from several countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States are able to enter Russia without a visa, but they need to obtain a work permit and residence registration. Work permits are handed out on the basis of quotas – following an assessment of the labour needs of Russia’s regions. However, the methods used for this assessment are grossly unreliable. The available quotas are filled very quickly, leaving the remaining persons without the option of working legally – a situation that in turn breeds corruption. Another difficulty is residence registration. Even citizens of Russia are required to register if they move to another part of the country. The system is justified on the grounds of monitoring internal migration; it formally amounts to notifying the local authorities of one’s place of residence. However, registration can present difficulties. A person cannot register without housing, which can be denied on a discriminatory basis to persons of ‘non-Slavic appearance’. Moreover, there have been reports of officers delaying, or denying, registration on discriminatory grounds – particularly against persons originating from the Caucasus and Roma – or extorting bribes.

 

The procedure of obtaining work permits and registration is so hostile to immigrants that many resort to the assistance of intermediary firms. These firms provide a range of ‘services’: arranging employment and the preparation of documents, including medical certificates. These processes are largely unregulated, resulting in instances of firms producing falsified documents, such as false residence registrations, which can create serious problems for migrants. Vulnerable minorities, particularly when not in possession of valid documents, are often unable to obtain legal redress in cases of fraudulent activity by employers and intermediary firms, or when their salaries remain unpaid. The illegal activities of some such firms are a breeding ground for more illegality, as they increase the likelihood of migrants finding themselves devoid of valid documents and funds.

 

The protection of the rights of indigenous peoples is guaranteed at Article 69 of the Constitution. Specific legislation includes: the 1999 Law ‘On Guarantees of the Rights of Numerically-small Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation’; and the 2001 Law ‘On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the Numerically-small Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation’. Federal legislation provides for the free-of-charge use of land in areas traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples, in which they carry out traditional activities necessary for their livelihood (‘territories of traditional nature use’). Other provisions ensure some autonomy with regard to educational institutions. Indigenous peoples are also guaranteed by law some control against the exploitation of natural resources for industrial purposes. The Law ‘On Basic Principles of Community Organization of Indigenous Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation’ provides for a form of self-organization for indigenous communities, with a view to protecting the areas they traditionally inhabit, and traditional ways of life and culture. The ‘Concept Paper on the Sustainable Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation’ was adopted in February 2009, outlining a comprehensive federal policy on indigenous peoples from 2009 to 2025. Nevertheless, these guarantees have in practice been undermined by limited implementation, lack of adequate funds and frequent failures to meaningfully consult with communities about the use and management of their land.

Amnesty International
Website: http://www.amnesty.org.ru

Arctic Studies Center
[Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.]
Website: http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/index.html

European Centre for Minority Issues
Website: http://www.ecmi.de

Memorial
Website: https://www.memo.ru/en-us/

Moscow Helsinki Group
Website: https://www.facebook.com/MoscowHelsinkiGroup

Museum of Russian-Armenian Friendship
Website: www.russianmuseums.info/M859

Non-Violence International, Newly Independent States
Website: http://www.policy.hu/kamenshikov/ninis

Russian Academy of Sciences (Institute of Ethnography)
Website: http://www.ras.ru

Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Russian-Association-of-Indigenous-Peoples-of-the-North/144884212317058

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

Website: https://www.sova-center.ru/en/

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO)
Website: http://www.unpo.org

Chechens

Memorial

Website: http://www.memo.ru

Jews

Federation of Russian Jewish Communities of the CIS

Website: https://fjc-fsu.org/

Ukrainians, Belarusians and Kazakhs

Ukrainian World Congress
Website: http://www.ukrainianworldcongress.org

Roma

European Roma Rights Centre
[Budapest, Hungary]
Website: http://www.errc.org

Russian or Volga Germans

American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
Website: http://www.ahsgr.org

Minority based and advocacy organisations

Sources and further reading