Arctic view on Russia’s changed constitution

The population of Russia officially supported the suggested changes in the world’s largest country’s constitution, with almost 78% of those who voted. Half of the circumpolar Arctic, including most of its indigenous peoples, will be governed by a different constitution from now on. Looking at the results of the vote, it is, however, noticeable how certain regions in the Arctic deferred from the general voting pattern.

Mayor Avsentyeva of Yakutsk during voting – the photo with the cross in the “yes” box was faked later – her office announced that she voted against! photo Алексей Толстяков/

The ‘negative list’ of Russian regions is populated by several Arctic units. The European Nenets Okrug had a turnout of 55,25% against the new constitution. Yakutia voted 40,65% against. In the Russian internet and social media it became popular how somebody had faked that photo of Yakutsk mayor Avsentyeva, who actually had voted against the constitutional changes. Her press secretary was quoted with the words “how can an elected mayor vote for constitutional changes that entail the abandonment of direct election of mayors?”. In the Nenets Okrug many think that people basically voted against the district’s merger with Arkhangelsk region, and that’s why they did not support the constitutional changes. The other two ‘negative leaders’ of the vote were Kamchatka kray and Magadan region. So four of the top five least supportive Russian units are in the Far North.

For Yakutia, politologist and journalist Vitaliy Obedin thinks that in fact even more people voted against the constitutional changes. He explains on the substance two important factors: territorial units with some degree of autonomy would lose from the proposed introduction of so called “federal territories”, which would be factually administered directly from Moscow without the detour via the regional governments. Secondly, units with a non-Russian population such as Yakutia will have noticed that the new constitution contains the changed stipulation about the “state-forming people” (gosudarstvoobrazuyushchiy narod). The new constitution assigns that role to ethnic Russians, which some perceive as a move away from the equality of ethnic groups in Russia.

On the other hand, it is likely that actually life will not change for ordinary people because of the new constitution, Obedin thinks. And other ethnic Russian units with a lot of non-Russian population did vote very much in favour of the constitutional reform: Chechnya and Tyva lead the supporters list with more than 97%!. The full referendum results are here , at the end of the arcticle, from which much of the information here stems.