Valentina Sovkina was on her way from Lovozero on Russia’s Kola Peninsula to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
First, all her driver’s car tires were cut up, so they had to get another car before starting from Lovozero, the main Sami settlement in the Murmansk region. Sovkina was supposed to catch a plane in Kirkenes on the Norwegian side of the border.
Her flight destination was New York were she, along with others, should represent the Russian Indigenous peoples at the United Nations first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, an event that kicks off on Monday as part of the General Assembly’s annual general debate.
Finally on the road, they were stopped between Lovozero and Olenogorsk by DPS, Russia’s traffic police, claiming the car was speeding. One police was uniformed, the other was in civilian, Sovkina tells the Murmansk based 7×7 Journal. The police claimed the car could have been stolen and wanted to check for guns since it could be related to the situation in Ukraine.
They were first allowed to continue after suggesting leaving the car and calling a taxi.
After a while on the road they were stopped once more, this time the police wanted to check under the hood of the car. A while later, near the town of Zapolyarny, they were stopped once again. The policeman asked to see her passport, a request Valentina Sovkina turned down. She didn’t want to give her passport away; afraid the police officer would keep it.
Suddenly, a civilian dressed man turn up from nowhere, trying to grab her bag. Valentina and the man ended up in a fight; he knocked her down, but she managed to avoid him from running off with the bag. All this happened as the policeman was watching. First when the man ran away, the policeman started the hunt.
Sovkina has posted photos on her Facebook profile of the events that hindered them from catching the plane. First at 2 am by night, the situation was solved. Then the plane had long before taken off from Kirkenes airport and the border was closed for the night.
On Sunday, Valentina Sovkina said to Yle Sapmi that she tried the get new tickets to get New York where the first world conference on indigenous peoples starts on Monday.
“I’m trying to arrange new tickets and travel again to New York. Participation of indigenous peoples of the world conference is very important to us,” Sovkina says.
Valentina Sovkina is the elected head of the Council of Authorized Representatives of the Sami in the Murmansk Oblast.
Interference with departure of other indigenous leaders
Sovkina was not the only Russian attempted by officials not to leave the country for the UN conference. In Moscow, Rodion Sulyandziga got his passport sized by FSB at the Sheremetevo airport. Sulyandziga is director of the Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North and a member of the committee for preparation of the UN conferance.
On his Facebook profil, Rodion Sulyandziga writes: ” After this incident, I chose to take a break and to keep silent for considerations of personal safety, despite the fact that I have been actively involved in the preparation of this important meeting over the last two years in my capacity as a member of the Global Coordinating Group and lobby team of the indigenous peoples.”
On Saturday, a third representative of Russian indigenous peoples was stopped at Sheremetevo airport in the same way, reports Vedomosti. Anna Naikanchina’s passport was also confiscated. She is also among those listed in the official programme as a featured speaker on rights of indigenous peoples at the national and local level.
‘What are the authorities afraid of?’
Rodion asks on his Facebook profil: ”What is this? What are the authorities afraid of? This is a policy of intimidation and repression carried out against a backdrop of mass psychosis… We must not remain sitting in the foxhole, and it would make no sense to do so… Anna and me will defend our constitutional rights by all available legal and informational means.”
According to Vedomosti, also the Director of the International Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea, Nadir Bekir, got his passport stolen before his supposed flight to New York.
His taxi was blocked by a minibus from where people in balaclava confiscated his passport and fled.
Asked by Vedomosti about all the attempts around Russia to hinder indigenous peoples to travel to New York, FSB’s border service said they could not comment on the situation.
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Finnish Sámi join UN Forum on indigenous issues, Yle News
Sweden: UN report critical of Sweden’s treatment of the Sami, Radio Sweden