Working Paper 29

The Obshchina in Chukotka: Land, property and local autonomy

Patty Gray

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

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Working Paper 29

Chukotka, located in Russia's far northeast, is one of several territories of the Russian North where reindeer herding is the main occupation of indigenous residents. In the Soviet period, reindeer herding was collectivized and centrally managed within sovkhozy (state farms). With the collapse of the Soviet Union came the application of Russia's privatization program to these sovkhozy, and many small privatized reindeer herding enterprises were created. However, these enterprises were unable to survive independently, and their failure triggered a collapse of reindeer herding in Chukotka, which had dire consequences for the rural residents that depended on it for their living. One of the solutions proposed by indigenous advocates in the 1990s was to give rural residents more local control by allowing them to form obshchiny, or "ancestral communities," a special category of land tenure defined in Russian federal law. Although obshchiny had been established by indigenous groups in other parts of the Russian North, Chukotkan regional authorities were more reluctant to give up centralized control of local production and administration, and so opposed the formation of obshchiny there. Instead, they developed a plan to regain control of privatized reindeer herding enterprises by forcing them to convert into municipal property. This paper follows the case of one of the few obshchiny established in Chukotka in the early 1990s. An examination of how and why it was formed, and how it was treated by regional authorities, highlights the contested nature of land, property and local autonomy in Chukotka.

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