On 14th of February 2021 in her 94th year of life a great person, colleague in Arctic Anthropology and professor emerita of ethnology, Ulla Johansen passed away. Born in Estonia she grew up in a multicultural environment, moved with her parents to Germany, where she studied anthropology after the war in Hamburg. It was her early interests in nomadic and Turkic speaking communities that let her turn to do research on the Sakha and the Soyot cultures and shamanism. Especially in the Republic of Sakha/Yakutia she became a leading figure of scientific exchange and founded in 2012 a scholarship hosted by the German DAAD and named after her. It allows Sakha doctoral candidates specializing in the areas of ethnology, musicology, social sciences or linguistics to receive a six-month research grant and gain experience in Germany. As head of the institute of ethnology at University of Cologne she had a profound effect on generations of German anthropologists, among them some of today’s leading Arctic anthropologists.
Our colleagues Gunhild Hoogensen Gjorv with Marc Lanteigne launched the Routledge Handbook of Arctic Security, of which they are the main editors, and where there are some chapters relevant for (and co-authored by) us. Gunhild said that the starting point for their approach to security is much broader than just hard dominant state approaches to security, focusing on security that matters to people on the ground. The basics is that feeling secure is first and foremost being free from worry. I think in this definition security as a concept is related pretty closely to well-being, another of our focuses. It would be interesting to explore the connections between the two more explicitly. The book has 42 authors, of which seven were at the launch during the Arctic Frontiers conference 2020 in Tromso. The contributions cover the whole range of security issues connected to the Arctic Council, communities and extractive industries, indigenous theoretical approaches to security, legal reform and security in Russia, and in all other Arctic countries, energy security, peace, and many other relevant topics.
This was one of the questions covered in an interdisciplinary exhibition on the effects of global warming and melting permafrost in Yakutia, on display in the Hokkaido museum of northern peoples. The exhibition with the title Thawing Earth – Global Warming in Central Yakutia is a nice example of co-production of knowledge between natural and social scientists and outreach experts, in a Japanese research project entitled “Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS)”. Organisers Atsushi Nakada from the Hokkaido Museum and Hiroki Takakura from the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies in Japan connected the available science evidence on climate change in Central Yakutia with practitioners’ knowledge on the effects. For a western visitor to the
Our colleagues in Vienna have this interesting job opening in a project that combines anthropology and GIS in the area of the East Siberian railway region (BAM, AYAM). Interested?
then read on
It was a fascinating week that the Extractive Industries Group spent in Neryungryi, Yakutia, one of the Soviet Union’s youngest single industry towns, established in 1975.
The Uarctic Thematic Network “Arctic Extractive Industries” thank the North Eastern Federal University, Faculty of Law and department for Northern Studies, for organising of a great course in our pan Arctic Phd programme, which was held from November 9-15 in Neryungri, on the basis of a technical institute NEFU.
We were 6 professors/teachers and 9 PhD students in the team, joint in the course lectures by students from the Neryungryi technical institute, a branch of Russia’s North Eastern Federal University (Yakutsk).
Within the first 15 years of its existence, the population of the town skyrocketed already up to 100 000 inhabitants, but once the construction of the town and the coal mines (in the Soviet Union all open pit) was finished, the Soviet Union was in the middle of perestroika, and as much as half of the population left again. We just experienced the celebrations for the 39th birthday of the city. How many of us come from such a young place? Now Neryungryi is a compact town of 50 000 people,
with mainly two companies working there in coal mining: Yakutugol, owned by its parent company Mechel Mining, running the main open pit in town, and recently started a giant new coal development in the taiga, the Elginski deposit, which will be producing with a few thousand fly-in fly-out workers four times more coal than all of Neryungryi did in the Soviet Union – with a town of a 100 000 people! The second company here is Kolmar, which belongs to a wealthy Russian enterpreneur called Gennadi Timchenko. At their Denisovski deposit, they produce coal from underground mining, at a price per tonne of 1800 roubles. Recently the coal price collapsed to 1400 roubles, making this development unprofitable. Nonetheless, Timchenko has enough financial cushion to just stop producing coal, and instead investing a lot of money into building new mines and processing plans, just for the future! The company has high hopes, especially for Chinese and Japanese prices to go up, and invested into hiring more permanent staff, currently a bit more than 900.
Interestingly, they decided not to organise fly-in / fly-out work force. All their employees live locally in Neryungryi, as the fly-in / fly-out model was not considered reliable for this kind of production. Instead, they hired recently 260 refugee coal miners from the Ukrainian Donbass mining area. Here they also feel the political changes in Russia’s relations with the West, as the company has to change from importing western mining technology to chinese technology. According to the main engineer at Kolmar, Chinese equipment satisfies their needs too.
This kind of information we got as a group on our excursion to the industry sites. The visitor to South East Siberia gets a different view of regional development at the small village of Iengra, where Evenki herders herd some thousand reindeer in 10 herds of the local collective enterprise (still called sovkhoz by herders), and a number of private herding groups (obshiny).
Interestingly, their nomadic life was not as much subject to Soviet modernisation policies as in other areas, even in North Yakutia. The Iengra Evenki seem to have continued nomadic migrations with families all the way through the Soviet Union, while their children still go to the boarding school – a system that was discontinued in other areas, such as in Chukotka or parts of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.
Interestingly, the biggest problems that the Evenki have with industry is not with coal mining, but with gold mining. The latter is organised very differently from the coal mining – namely in smaller companies with less significant gold extraction licences. They get their claims allocated mostly from the district municipality, whereas the reindeer herders are registered with the village council. This means for them that on paper they do not even compete for land with the gold mining (artel, priiski). This industry – as Alexandra, a chairperson from the Iengra culture house says – does not really care what is going on around them. In other words, corporate social responsibility is not even properly known as a concept. On the other hand, both of these livelihoods – herding and mining – are so far spatially not too much overlapping, as the land around Neryungryi is rather sparsely populated.
A bit further away from Neryungryi, an hour’s drive, there is a hot spring, which was a popular excursion trip among our PhD course group too. At a mild minus 35 degrees centigrade we all enjoyed a warm bath, with our hair getting frozen immediately.
The programme organisers Aitalina Ivanova and Mikhail Prisyazhyi from Yakutsk (North Eastern Federal NEFU) University did a great job in dividing our days between sessions and excursions, so that the participants really felt how it made sense to have an extractive industries PhD school at a site where the industry is actually active in extractive practices. A warm thank you to both of them, and the whole team organising what was a remarkable course event within our phd programme on extractive industries.
More on the programme can be seen at our separate website, in Russian at the news service of NEFU,
and of course – as always – Arthur Mason’s visual ethnographic diary of the whole event.
Everybody with a serious interest is invited to the following event:
Workshop “Intangible oral culturalheritage: documentation, archiving and preservation techniques” Organised by the ORHELIA project team & anthropology research team Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
Venue: Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Arktikum Building, Pohjoisranta 4, Thule meeting room, 1st floor, take the door up the stairs right after the main entrance into the building.
The anthropology team members interested in oral history are thrilled to get a visit by linguist Michael Riessler from Freiburg, Germany, and Anna Afanasieva from the Barents Institute in Kirkenes, Norway, to join us for a 1.5 day workshop where we explore different ways and best practices of data management, preservation and processing in oral history and sociolinguistics. We will also use this opportunity to think about ways of cooperating with Riessler’s documentation project initatives, as well as for updating each other and anybody who is interested about our recent fieldwork all over the European and Russian Arctic. That fieldwork report session will be on Tuesday before lunch, 24 September. A detailed programme of the workshop can be found HERE.