Report on the situation of the Finno-Ugric peoples

Florian Siegl florian.siegl at
Tue Oct 30 09:42:15 UTC 2007

I feel obliged to comment on the report which was distributed on 
Ura-List earlier this moment. If there is anyone who wants to forward my 
comments to other lists and/or to the author, please feel free to do so. 
As I know most about the (Forest) Enets situation, I’ll stick to things 
I know of and comment on the trustworthiness of statistics including 
comments on gathering, reading and interpreting data.

Florian Siegl
University of Tartu
Documentation of Enets and Forest Nenets
DOBES Tartu-Göttingen

Census data (1989, 2002)*
First, the 2002 Russian census counted 237 Enetses not 0,2 (=200) which 
is incorrect in the report. This means that the number of Enetses has 
increased since the 1989 census which counted 198/209 (this statistical 
confusion goes through available sources ever since). As the 1989 census 
and 2002 census were conducted on different principles, it remains 
highly questionable whether we really should add apples and pears. From 
my fieldwork in Potapovo I know, that at least two individuals (probably 
several more) have declared themselves to be Enetses in the 2002 census 
although the last Enets in their family was their grandfather. On okrug 
level both were not registered as Enetses.

*Census data vs okrug data*
Census data stands in sharp contrast to local okrug statistics which in 
2005 counted 148 Enetses. As long as Enetses were counted by okrug 
statistics (also in times when Enetses were not counted in the USSR 
census), the highest number ever reported was 179 individuals back in 
the 1960s. This means, that okrug data never had as much Enetses as 
official census data.

*Enetses and Nenetses*
Anthropologically (at least historically) Tundra Enetses and Forest 
Enetses relied on different ways of foraging and could be considered to 
be different people. Also linguistically I see it justified to consider 
Tundra Enetses and Forest Enetses as two independent languages. But as 
these people are so small anyway, this distinction is not made. Also for 
the numerically much more prominent Nenetses, a distinction between 
Tundra and Forest Nenetses is not done in statistics though both 
linguistically and anthropologically this would be justified.

*Language skills*
The 2002 Census has 129 speakers for Enets (both Tundra and Forest 
Enets). Whereas I don’t have any data on Tundra Enets, not more than 
20-25 people have command of Forest Enets (see my posting earlier this 
year on Ura-List) and I personally doubt that the number of Tundra 
Enetses is that high at all.
This number once again reflects artifacts of quantitative data 
collection. It is easy to claim language skills but answering a simple 
question in Forest Enets actually shows whether a person has command of 
the language or not. In the early 1990s, a Russian sociologist did 
research in Potapovo (quantitative data collection) and claimed in his 
publications, that there are still children who acquire Forest Enets as 
their first language. These speakers should have come to age by the time 
of my fieldwork in 2006-2007 but I could not find a single one…

*Enetses as a new people…*
Many inhabitants of the Taimyr Peninsula believe that Enetses are a new 
people. Prior to the 1989 census Enetses were counted only in the 
1926/27 census (in a period when Enetses did not yet exist under this 
name), which nobody remembers in these areas. Therefore there seems to 
be a trend on the Taimyr Peninsula to be an Enets, as this is something 
new (which it actually is not).

Whereas there seems to be some kind of awakening nationality 
understanding among the (Forest) Enetses too, it is clear that there a 
currently at least two different concepts of being Enets. The first one 
is (simplified) an Enets is a person who speaks the language (generation 
of last speakers aged 46-61 I work with). The second one (simplified) an 
Enets may be anyone who feels Enets and has some Enets roots but does no 
longer speak the language. Whereas the language (at least Forest Enets) 
will be extinct in a decade or two, people who feel themselves Enetses 
will remain.

*Personal comments on statistics concerning the Taimyr Penisula*
At least for numerically small people, quantitative data must be 
addressed with more than just one grain of salt. I assume that many of 
my points made here should be valid for Nganasans too, who seem much 
more numerous in statistics than they appear to be. Another crucial 
problem in multiethnic areas as the Taimyr Peninsula is the concept of 
nationality. Offspring from interethnic marriages must be counted as 
either A or B (same in Finland where one must be e.g. either Finn or 
Swede) and several people have mixed identities, being nationality A for 
one purpose and nationality B for another one (recall 148 Enetses on 
okrug level vs 237 in the 2002 census).
Finally, a high official inside the former okrug administration in 
Dudinka told me and my colleague in February 2006, that many villages on 
the Taimyr Peninsula and especially people in the tundra were counted 
from distance in the 2002 census as one could not organize enough 
transport possibilities to do so. And precisely for such reasons, the 
administration in Dudinka relies on its own statistical data and not too 
much on census data. For personal choices I stick to okrug (now raion) 
data and enhance it qualitatively during fieldwork. I’m however aware 
that numerically more prominent people need a different approach but 
this is not of my professional concern.

Part of the data presented in this mail was published by me in 2005, a 
follow up will appear in early 2008.

Johanna Laakso wrote:
> Dear All,
> the new report by Katrin Saks (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
> Europe) on the situation of the Finno-Ugric and Samoyed peoples in Russia
> is published at
> (in English), for the Russian version see link below.
> Best
> JL
> ------------------------ Ursprüngliche Nachricht ------------------------
> Betreff: [ugrimugri:452] Katrin Saksa raport vene keeles
> Von:     "MariUver" <mari.uver at>
> Datum:   Mo, 29.10.2007, 23:32
> An:      ugrimugri at
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Katrin Saksa Raport soome-ugri ja samojeedi rahvaste olukorrast vene keeles:
> MariUver
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