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The Pomors

The Kashubians in Poland and the Pomors in Russia. They have different histories, ways of life and problems. However, there are many things uniting them. Primarily it is the sea. This is the second part in a series on the Kashubians and Pomors.

December 19, 2019 - Ekaterina Maximova Paulina Siegień - Stories and ideas

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

One should pick stones carefully. If you step on the weeds, you can slip. Avoid jumping from stone to stone because some of them are shaky. In two hours, all of them will be covered with tidal water.

The water is clean. In the Kandalaksha Gulf, the White Sea is not white at all but transparent. Everything around it is white, though. Ice floes are also white with seals warming up on them.       

The White Sea becomes truly white in winter when the bays and gulfs are iced. The Barents Sea is located north of the Arctic Circle, so it does not freeze up due to the warm North Atlantic Current. Nothing warms up the White Sea. The warm Black Sea is in the south. It looks like a twisted mirror image of the White Sea. They say that historical justice triumphed at the Black Sea. They speak a lot about justice at the White Sea too.       

Between the high and low tide, you can go inside and warm up in a fishery (tonya, in Russian) – a place where they catch fish by drag seining or other fishing tackles. Fishery is the essence of the Pomor life with a fishing hut by the very edge of the sea, from where the Pomors take off to fish and hunt white coat seals.    

Tetrin’s Fishery at the Tersky Coast in the Kandalaksha Gulf is the lifetime project of Alexander Komarov.

It can be called an open-air museum, although Tetrin’s Fishery has no formal status and is nothing other than a fishery. On a plot of land at the Arctic Circle on the coast of the White Sea, Alexander Komarov is single-handedly reviving the Pomor culture. In Tetrin’s Fishery you can see the way the Pomors lived and worked. You can feel what it is like to be in a warm hut when outside is knee-deep snow and biting frost.           

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

Tetrin’s Fishery tells the story of the past. Mostly, people speak about the Pomors in the past tense. They came, they stayed, they developed their culture, they pursued trades, they went to the sea to fish and hunt the white coat seal. Today, the following questions arise in relation to the Pomors: Are these people still here? Who are they? What kind of life do they have? What do they do? 

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

The frozen sea

There is much controversy about the origin of the Pomors.

Some researchers claim that these ancient people appeared long before the emergence of the Russian state or separate Russian principalities. According to this account, the Pomors are descendants of the Finno-Ugric population of the White Sea coast mixed with the Russian incomers and the Varangians. The origin and ethnicity of the latter are also controversial in different theories. The Pomors themselves mostly believe that their ancestors came from the land of Veliky Novgorod and the Suzdal Principality and settled down along the coast of the White Sea, where they pursued trades including fishing, hunting, and salt-making in the ancient times.    

Alexandra Demyanchuk, a Pomor woman from the Karelian village Nyukhcha says that those people were looking for a better place to live at that time, and they found the White Sea.

“Is it really better here?” You may wonder. Spring has already arrived to other regions, while here the snow is still deep. 

“I like it here,” she says proudly. She also mentions Martha the Mayoress, the wife of Novgorod’s posadnik Isaac Boretsky. At the end of the 15th century, Martha Boretskaya was against the annexation of Novgorod land by the Principality of Muscovy, but that struggle ended with the city’s defeat and her death. Nikolay Karamzin tells this story in his novel “Martha the Mayoress or the Generation of Novgorod.” According to Alexandra Demyanchuk, it was at that very moment, when dissatisfied with the new dependence on Moscow, the Novgorod people went to the North in search of new land.             

Alexandra Demyanchuk
Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

During several centuries of presence in the White Sea, the incomers from the Russian principalities mixed with the local population, creating a rich and distinctive culture which resulted in a certain separate and authentic group. Already in the 17th and 18th centuries, people of this culture were defined as Pomors or Pomortsy in the written documents of the time.

The Pomors made their living from traditional trades. In the White Sea region, they repeat the mantra “the sea is our field” even today. To be a Pomor means to live and feed off the sea. Cold and dangerous, the sea helped people to survive. In the course of centuries, the Pomors developed economic and cultural relations with the neighbouring peoples. They mostly interacted with Norwegians and the best proof of that is Russenorsk – a pidgin, or simplified language, that developed as a means of communication between two ethnic groups.

The revolution changed everything. The Soviet regime chose Pomorye as the place of repressions. The first GULAG camp was founded on the Solovetsky Islands. Soon after that, the construction of the White Sea – North Sea canal took the lives of thousands of prisoners. The Pomors suffered the same fate as other citizens of the country: repression and collectivisation that contradicted the traditional ideas of personal labour and personal responsibility. Collective farms were created in fishery and agriculture, often against the laws of nature. Then, the war started. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became extremely difficult to recreate traditional Pomor trades because of the changing times.

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

This is the history. The Pomor traditions are exhibited in several museums scattered around the towns and villages of the White Sea coast. These include a small museum in Kandalaksha, a museum room in a school in Chupa, a large museum of the Pomor culture in Kem, and a “Lumber Room” created in Nyukhcha. Tetrin’s Fishery is also a type of museum, but in the open air.    

The Pomors – a regional brand

In Arkhangelsk  at the beginning of the 2000s, the Pomor culture spread beyond the regional museums. There emerged a group of people who were interested not just in preserving, but also in developing and promoting the Pomor culture. That is how the Pomor Association of the Arkhangelsk region was initiated by Ivan Moiseev and Vadim Medvedkov ten years ago. Anatoly Bednov, a journalist from Arkhangelsk, is a member of this Association.

During the latest census, Anatoly Bednov identified himself as a Pomor.

“The Pomors are people who live at the coast of the White Sea and along the rivers flowing into it. Their lifestyle and culture are related to the sea and their main trade is sea and river fishery,” Bednov says.

In the conversation, it becomes clear that although Bednov is not involved in fishery, he still identifies himself as Pomor:

“Fisherman is a profession, while Pomor is also an ethnicity. It is broader than just a fisherman.”

Anatoly Bednov. Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

According to Anatoly Bednov, the purpose of the Pomor Association of the Arkhangelsk region is the “recreation of traditional culture in modern conditions.” This includes both the material culture, like the trades and crafts of fishery and hunting, and the non-material one.

“These are the Pomor fairy tales, clothes, festivals, special traits of the language and dialect. On top of that, these are customs and rituals- everything that distinguishes us from the Southern and Central Russian population, everything distinctively local,” he enumerates.

 At the same time, Bednov is convinced that the Pomors are not a separate people:

“The Pomors are Russian. This is a people within a people, so to say. A part of the Russian people with their special traits distinguishing them among other peoples.”

 The Pomor Association of the Arkhangelsk region has rather standard goals: recreating and promoting traditional culture, attracting tourists, and establishing regional brands.

“It is important to stand out among other regions. It is not just a regular territory No. 29, not just an ordinary place, but a region with a distinctive face different from the neighbouring regions,” says Anatoly Bednov.

Developing the region based on its unique culture seems very reasonable and understandable. It is not new, and such a strategy is popular all over the world. However, something went wrong with the Pomors. At some point, the initially rapid development of the “Pomor idea” and local culture promotion diminished:

“In the beginning of the 2000s, when the Pomor theme was actively discussed- even at the level of the governor- more people identified themselves as Pomor. However, it seems that this was a general trend emerging in various regions by the beginning of the 2010s. We could see it in the Far East and in the South of Russia.    

During the 2002 census, then-governor Anatoly Efremov identified himself as Pomor, serving as an example for other regional officials. As a result, 6,571 people listed themselves as Pomors. A new nationality began to emerge in the North of Russia – and not everybody liked it. 

Regnum Information Agency started to publish critical articles about the Pomors and “the Pomor idea” with accusations of separatism, work for the benefit of enemies, and ambition to divide Russia. These ideas echoed in other mass media and the local authorities became less enthusiastic about the Pomors. The Pomor New Year, a large public event that took place in Arkhangelsk on the night of September 15 for several years in a row, was canceled.   

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

“The authorities are more cautious about financial support. They allocate less grants for projects now under the pretext of a money shortage,” Bednov recalls.

At that time, another local organisation, the National and Cultural Autonomy of the Pomors, joined the Pomor initiatives. Their position was more radical than that of the Association, which according to Anatoly Bednov, also affected the reduction of the Pomor projects.   

“They had an inclination towards paganism, which also had a very negative influence. They were accused of not following the general Orthodox trend,” he says. Bednov believes that the reasons for the present situation are in the economy: “Economic entities are afraid that if citizens define themselves as a separate people, they would claim certain rights for the land and resources. As for us, we are not interested in that at all. We would just like to have the extraction of mineral resources under control.”    

Bednov does not know yet how to combine the Pomor idea with politics without inciting mutual fears. However, he is confident that the region should develop ideologically, otherwise it will become unattractive to young people and cause even more emigration.

After the census in 2010, the number of Pomors significantly decreased. Only 3,113 people listed themselves as Pomor in that census. Critical publications continue to appear in the mass media. They often mention Norway as the country that supports the Pomor idea and the Pomor organisations financially with the purpose of gaining a hold on the Russian northern territories. 

“These accusations appear in the mass media quite regularly. We are used to seeing a publication of this kind every half a year,” says Bednov, dispelling the myth of Norway supporting Pomor organisations.

“The Norwegians allocated no grants at all. There was nothing on the part of Norway. We could not be considered ‘foreign agents,’ even formally. During all these years, they did not send a single ruble or krone. In fact, the Murmansk region works with Norway much more than the Arkhangelsk region. They have more international projects because they a share geographical border.”   

Although regional authorities refused to provide considerable support to the Pomor projects, Bednov and his colleagues from the association continue their activity and  do not give up hope.

“If we don’t take any measures, the Pomors will just dissolve,” worries Bednov. The threats to the Pomor culture and its preservation are everywhere. Primarily, it is globalisation. Mass culture levels out regional diversity, giving way to ‘fakelore.’”    

“We should concentrate on the identity, otherwise it will be just a wild mixture – a bird of happiness with a Gzel pattern, which is simply bad taste. For example, there are popular bands that imitate folklore including that of the north. They alone can replace traditional culture that will fall into decline without real support on the part of the authorities. On top of the enthusiasm on our part, local and state authorities should show their interest.”  

 Oshkuy. What is left from the Pomor dialect.

While members of the Association of the Pomors of the Arkhangelsk region are trying to develop the Pomor culture in Arkhangelsk, many other people along the White Sea coast are trying to preserve it.

Ivan Moseev, a founder of the association, is well known among them. He is the author of numerous publications in the Pomor dialect. In this sense, very few people have worked on preserving the language, which is undoubtedly a valuable part of every culture. 

 Alexandra Demyanchuk (taking the Ukranian last name of her husband) from the Nyukhcha village willingly agrees to sing Pomor songs and insists that we sing with her. She is famous in Nyukhchi. She worked here as a teacher for several years and today, although 80 years old, she stays very active in the sphere of culture. She sings in a local band and goes on tours with it, thus helping to preserve the Pomor culture. Her Pomor songs are one of the only examples of pomorska govorya [Pomor speech] that we heard during the visit to Pomorye. This is what the Pomors call their ancient dialect of the Russian language.

Pomorska govorya is better represented by written sources than it is in oral speech. You can find it in the publications of Ivan Moseev and impressively thick Russian-Pomor dictionary volumes. Today, it is hard to meet native speakers of pomorska govorya due to the language standards strictly imposed during the Soviet time. Alexandra Konstantinova used to work as a school teacher and she confirms that the Russian language had only one version that did not allow for dialects. 

No matter where you go or who you visit traveling along the coastline, every collector of the Pomor culture will have a book that once used to be the cause of a serious scandal. We are talking about the Pomorsky Skaski [The Pomor Fairy Tales] collection published by Ivan Moseev. It is hard to read Pomorsky Skaski in the Pomor dialect, especially if Russian is not your native language. However, you can compare it with the Russian version and at least understand that a polar bear in the Pomor dialect is oshkuy, which also means “a villain.” Fairy tales are published in three languages: Russian, Pomor, and Norwegian. The Russian and the Pomor version alone would probably attract little attention, while the Norwegian version in the Pomor context alarmed the conservative group. For them, it proves that the Association of the Pomors of the Arkhangelsk region, headed by Moseev, work for the “enemy”—namely, Norway. Moseev has been accused of separatism and cooperation with Norway for the purpose of separating Pomorye from Russia.        

In 2012, a criminal case was initiated against Moseev. He was accused of incitement of ethnic hatred after leaving a comment on a public page on the “VKontakte” website. In the comment, he allegedly called the Russian people scum in comparison to the Pomors. It is a very murky case, and some Pomor activists are confident that he was framed. In spite of that, the court convicted and fined Moseev.    

Hunting down a young Pomor

The Pomors live in Kandalaksha, Nyukhcha, and Chupa. All of them have one common trait. Those who are older claim their Pomor identity without any doubts.

Take, for example, Ivan Mekhnin and his wife in Chupa. They are Pomors. Why? Because they live here and have pursued local trades, at least fishing. They are here. They are local. They come from here. You can meet Galina Ivanovna in a local library in Chupa. Yes, she is a Pomor. Her father is Russian, but her mother is Pomor. She is from here, and the sea is the main thing for her. At the same time, it seems that young Pomors do not exist.

There is a young person by the name of Vassily Efremov in Chupa, and everything about him seems to prove that he is a Pomor. However, it is not that easy to talk to Vasya. He is like a fish – you have to catch him first. Completely by chance, Vasya’s wife, Yulia Suprunenko, helps us approach him. She grew up in Ashgabat but swapped warm Turkmenistan for her husband’s severe motherland. Yulia’s work in World Wildlife Fund took her to the White Sea where she fell in love: both with the sea and with Vasya. 

Ivan Mekhnin and
Vassily Efremov. Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

Vasya is on his way somewhere, wearing a winter hunting suit. He perches down on a stool to answer a few questions. Is he a Pomor?

“I don’t know how you can tell who is a Pomor and who is not,” he replies calmly. “As far as I understand, Pomors are those who live at the White Sea coast, fish and whose life purpose is fish, fishing, and forest.”

His wife Yulia points out that Vasya was born and grew up here in Chupa. His father is from Pulonga. It reminds Vasya of the past, and he tells us about his parents and childhood:

“Yes, they were at the sea all the time and often took me with them. I started to go to the sea with them at the age of three.”

Yulia tells us more about Vasya. Quiet, calm, and laconic, Vasya turns into a case-hardened sailor when he goes to the sea. At sea, he is in his elemen. He flawlessly controls the boat and knows all the bays, gulfs, and currents by heart.   

Many young people from the White Sea coast believe that their place is not here, that they should run away and move to big cities to study, work, make money, and be happy. Vasya used to think along the same lines. However, if you are a Pomor, you cannot be happy anywhere but here at the White Sea. Yulia and Vasya know it because they lived together in Moscow for some time.     

“Vasya did not understand it until he moved to a metropolis. Only there, he realised that he would not survive in a big city, that he felt bad there. He is not able to navigate the city the way he navigates the sea. He was like a fish out of water, he suffocated. He just went down on the floor writhing in hysterics, saying: ‘I won’t live here, I can’t live here,’’ Yulia recalls.

 It is hard for Pomors to be out of their natural habitat.

“Still, the locals understand that they live in a unique place. If you walk around the city and talk to people, they will tell you that they don’t like living in apartments, they prefer to live on the land, they move to Keret and Pulonga for the whole summer. They understand that they will never buy this experience in any metropolis. People from large cities have started to move here. They come to stay. Many families want to live here, because we have everything they need: a hospital, a kindergarten, a school. We even used to have a lyceum. The metropolis is choking them,” says Yulia.  

Alexandra Demyanchuk agrees with her. Alexandra is a Pomor from Nyukhcha, which is 450 kilometers away from Chupa. 

“I can’t stay in the city,” she says.

Yulia and Vasya have moved to Chupa. They are developing a tourist business together. Yulia is an active member of the Basinal Council – an organisation created in 2003 under the initiative of the then-supervisor of the sea program at the World Wildlife Fund and director of the Moscow State University biological research station. Their programs on preserving the White Sea involve the locals. The Basinal Council develops its projects so that the people can benefit from them. For example, before declaring the opening of a natural park, they discuss it and try to come to an agreement with people on various ideas.

“We try to preserve nature while taking into account the interests of the local population,” Yulia articulates.

Apart from working with nature, the Basinal Council undertakes other activities. Local businessmen interested in regional development and fishermen have entered the organisation. Disputing new fishery rules has become more effective for the fishermen when speaking on behalf of a large entity. Development of tourism is also on the agenda of the Basinal Council. However, unlike at the Black Sea, there are no, and cannot be, ordinary tourist towns at the White Sea.

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

 White Sea tourism

“Tourism can be different. We try to approach it with great care, making it reasonable and socially responsible. Arctic nature is very vulnerable. If you tread out a patch of land under the tent, nothing will grow on it for three years. The north cannot embrace too many people. We will never see as many visitors as, say, Crimea,” believes Yulia Suprunenko. “They want to build many hotels here. I would not want it, but one small basic hostel would not hurt. I would like the tourism to be more traditional, when local people from the villages share their knowledge with tourists. Unfortunately, the people who can still do that pass away every year. Certainly, there will be those who learn it from books – enthusiasts willing to share and pass it on. This is also possible.”        

According to Yulia Suprunenko, there are two types of tourists coming to the White Sea. The first type are those Muscovites who do not just come to build a summer house or take children here. They come here to keep and preserve the culture. These are the admirers. Some of them are in love with the place, like Yulia, and others are from here, like Vasya. However, there is a second type. They buy out the land, build mansions, and limit access for the locals. It seems they enjoy going to the sea, similar to the Pomors, but their manners are completely different.      

“There are people who come by luxurious cars and boats. They drop their boats into the sea and just ride those crazy engines. Fishing inspectors simply cannot get hold of them. Sometimes they shoot at animals. One day a wounded walrus came to us. He was not dying, but there were traces of shooting on him. What should we do with it? We don’t have, and in fact, nobody here has vehicles to catch those people and punish them. Together with the Basinal Council we are going to carry out raids, in any case. If various authorities lack fuel or equipment, we are ready to help. We carry out raids and impose fines, which is already something. Another danger are the fires. More than once we have extinguished fires here completely on our own with the help of local people. Of course, we call special services, but it takes them so long to arrive… Such fires are mostly caused by tourists, of course,” says Yulia.

Nevertheless, many Pomor activists see a window of opportunity in tourism. Many difficulties are related to the lack of tourist infrastructure in Pomorye. Finding accommodation is only the first problem faced by a tourist. Transport is the second one. Local trains connect cities and towns, but many places at the White Sea are simply inaccessible, especially in cold weather. You have to rent a car to get to old Pomor villages and it can be quite costly. In winter, it can even be impossible.

You need a snow-mobile to get to Tetrin’s Fishery in winter. On top of that, another factor comes into play. The breathtaking beauty of the Russian North becomes less attractive with the restrictions and limitations imposed on international tourists. Not every international tourist is ready to talk to the Federal Security Service, even if treated in a most courteous way. Every foreigner should inform the security service about his or her intention to visit the White Sea. This very fact can push away many potential guests.

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

If you were to recommend a specific place at the White Sea coast for a tourist to visit, it should be Nyukhcha. This ancient Pomor village shows how rich and strong the Pomor culture once was. Huge wooden houses of merchants prove that the Pomors lived well on fishery and trade. One of these wide two-storied houses was constructed in 1903 and belonged to merchant Ponamaryov before the revolution. After the revolution, it performed various administrative functions, housing local authorities, serving as a medical station, and was even used as a maternity house. Today, “Lumber Room” is located here. Nadezhda Semyonova uses this informal name that appeared randomly long before the museum was officially opened.

“People get rid of lumber, while I take everything home,” she says. “I work at school and at some point, we started to do research.” 

Nadezhda Sergeyevna shows us the first exhibit:

“This is a pillow case that was given to the bride groom. The bride gave it to him as a present.”

She started to collect unwanted “lumber” back in 2006. The number of exhibits kept growing andshe was not sure what to do with them.

“At first, we did not take too many things due to the lack of space. Then, I started to put everything in the barn or lumber room.” 

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

Thus, collecting and putting stuff into the barn gave rise to the museum of Pomor everyday life in Nyukhcha: “Lumber Room”. Today, it is a well-known and important place on the map of Pomor cultural monuments.   

Nadezhda Sergeyevna has a special inner strength that becomes immediately apparent when you meet her. She is a kind, serious, and decisive person. Without her character and enthusiasm, there would be no “Lumber Room” in Nyukhcha. The museum is developing due to its director. The house was renovated and turned to a museum thanks to grant funds from the international project on borderline cooperation between Russian and the European Union.

“This year we won a presidential grant of 100 thousand rubles for the museum development,” tells Nadezhda Sergeyevna, with a touch of pride. One of the urgent matters on the agenda is the recount and inventory of the exhibits as “Lumber Room” turns into a full-scale institution.

Nadezhda Sergeyevna shows the Pomor culture in action: she cooks traditional dishes in a big furnace – zharyoha with fried cod and eggs. As she cooks, she tells us that a feather does not catch fire. That is why they used to put out sparks with feathers, which she still does today. She uses a large spade called peklo to put the ceramic pots into the furnace. Traditionally, only widowers could make such spades. To be the guest of Nadezhda Semyonova is both delicious and educational. 

She is a Pomor.

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

“Of course, by all means! I was born in an encampment, you can’t run away from who you are,” she laughs. “Secondly, the Pomor culture. The speech, lifestyle, non-material culture – I have all of it. I believe, on top of being born here in an encampment, I’m already the bearer of this non-material layer. Many people do not identify themselves as Pomors because not everyone has boats and goes fishing. If the person goes to the sea, it is clear that he is a Pomor, isn’t it? Today, not everyone makes a living from the sea, but they still follow the traditions at home. There is a furnace in the house, a distinct interior, fish pies, and family traditions. When you follow the traditions and live in a traditional house, it is clear that you are Pomor.”

I still had to ask Nadezhda Semyonova if the Pomors were Russian.

“The Pomors are Russian. How can it be otherwise? Russian, of course,” she replies.

 Laugh or cry by the White Sea

As we walk around Nyukhcha, Nadezhda Semyonova shows what is left of the true Pomor culture. The saying “The sea is our field” is a motto of the Pomors. Nadezhda Semyonova also adds: “Land won’t make you rich, but it will break your back.” 

During the Communist regime, the traditional lifestyle of the Pomors was turned upside down. Agricultural collective farms were established even here, at the White Sea. The collapse of the Soviet Union, together with its social and economic structure, did not bring significant changes to the Pomor population. To this day, it has proven impossible to come back to the customary earnings, fishing, hunting, and trade. This is due to the regulations on fishery recorded in the federal legislation. The only remaining collective farm Belomor has a legal right to fish in Nyukhcha, but even their fishery quotas are too small. As a result, for most of the year, the collective farm workers have nothing to do.          

“In order to earn, you have to spread it out for the whole year. People have to make their living from something and the quotas are small. We also have boats in the collective farm. They go to the Barents Sea, but that quota finishes in three months. Then, the collective farm rents the boats out to make some money, while the fishermen are left without work. Few boats are constructed because of that as well. What kind of Pomor are you now? Nowadays, even the laws prohibit fishing. What does it mean to live on the sea? It means that he has caught herring, sold it and lived on it for a year, doesn’t it? Today you can take 10 or 15 kilograms, or as much as you can carry, and it won’t be for sale, which puts an end to this culture,” says Nadezhda Semyonova, making a cross with her hands.                

The situation is not better in other areas of Pomorye.

“The whole life of the Pomors is based on the use of natural resources,” says Sergey Samoilov, the head of the Belomor collective farm in Letnyaya Zlotitsa of the Arkhangelsk region. Samoilov is a well-known person in the region due to his hard work on the development of Pomor villages. The Belomor collective farm in Letnyaya Zlotitsa has the same problems as Belomor in Nyukhcha.  

Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

“The quotas define the economy of the collective farm, which in turn defines the life in the village,” explains Samoilov. Quotas are sold at the auctions and there are not enough of them. The steamboat belonging to Samoilov’s collective farm is shared with another collective farm Zarya Severa in Dolgoshchelye. When both of them use up their quotas on fishing in the course of several months, they rent the steamboat to another industry. It is used for oil searches. The lives of people in the village depend on the collective farm. Belomor does its best to improve people’s life in this remote place. It organises mobile administration so the local people can handle their issues without traveling to Arkhangelsk, resolves health care issues, and tries to develop tourism.

“My task is to prove to the Russian government that the institutions performing social functions should have a permanent quote,” says Samoilov with indignation. “I would like to understand if our government is ready to protect our interests and how it is going to do it.” 

During the Arctic forum in the Arkhangelsk region in spring, Samoilov turned to the governor of the Arkhangelsk region with a request to raise the question of quotas at the meeting with the president. It is not clear if it was raised or not. 

“We don’t say ‘give us money.’ we say ‘give us the resources’ – the very resources that we have been gaining for 85 years,” says Samoilov.

The collective farm does not have enough fishing quotas and seal fisheries have been banned completely. The Pomors cannot manage to make their living from sea. Fishery has strict rules that are also hard to understand. Sergey Samoilov cannot accept the absurdity of the situation:

“The rules are quite complicated. Before, every subject used to have its own rules. It made it easier. Now we have general rules with a general part and a specific part. When you get to the specific part, you have already forgotten what is there in the general one. It is quite hard for an ordinary person in the village who graduated from the 8th grade at the secondary school in 1975. They remember the main rule: you cannot let down nets during the spawning period.”     

If a building becomes architecture, then it is art. Photo: Ekaterina Maximova

However, just in case, the locals hide from every stranger who could “catch” them with the nets. They are especially afraid of cameras. Anyone can be a fishery inspector. Samoilov sees a solution in allowing the regional authorities to manage fishery and control resources:

“The authorities create one law for everyone, while the conditions are different at Kamchatka, Sakhalin, the White Sea, and the Baltic Sea. It is absurd to spell out every specific characteristic in the law. That is why it is logical to transfer this authority to the federal subject.”

The fishery problems take us back to the problem of the identity. Due to his southern origin, Sergey Samoilov does not claim to be Pomor, but he still identifies with the Pomor movement. He is a member of the Association of the Pomors of the Arkhangelsk region. 

“Nobody denies the fact that the Pomors have traditions related to the sea, but the state cannot recognise these traditions for some reason. Only indigenous minorities can have traditions. And this is a problem. Why cannot the Pomors, as a sub-ethnicity of the Russian people, have their traditions acknowledged?” he asks.     

This question has no answer. The fate of the Pomors is also hard to predict. Are they still going to exist ten or fifteen years from now? Will anyone continue to sing Pomor songs and publish Russian-Pomor dictionaries? Are the people living at the White Sea coast going to catch fish at the sea to make fish pies and zharyokha?   

It is snowing behind the windows of Sergey Samoilov’s office in Arkhangelsk. It is incredibly beautiful, although it is springtime. It is beautiful, but still a bit sad.

You can find the first part on the Kashubians here

Paulina Siegień is a freelance journalist, writing about Polish-Russian neighbourhood and general Russian developments. She is currently working on a book about the Kaliningrad Oblast.

Ekaterina Maximova is a Moscow born free-lance photographer. She works with Geo Russia, Ogonyok and Lenta. She has photo blog.

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