Khanty and Mansi lands: The history and population of the AZRF's new districts
Indigenous inhabitants of the free economic zone7 september 2023
In early September, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, approved the addition of two new districts to the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation—the territories of Beloyarsky and Berezovsky districts of Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Area have now officially become part of the Polar region's unified economic space. Local authorities highlight that the special economic zone status should positively influence the anticipated investment volume, the development of the transport-logistics complex and infrastructure growth in both the new Arctic regions and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area overall. For example, intensifying quartz extraction in Berezovsky district—the privileges and preferences granted to AZRF residents should assist Polar Quartz JSC in expanding its production base. At the same time, the demand for this mineral is on the rise, including for the manufacturing of domestic microelectronics. The inclusion of new districts in the AZRF will significantly speed up the development of the social sector, enhance urban and rural areas, and generate new employment opportunities.
However, the Arctic is not just about economy, natural resources and innovative urban solutions but also a home for numerous indigenous communities. The territories of Berezovsky and Beloyarsky districts in Yugra are inhabited by the Khanty and Mansi, along with a small Komi group. Although the proportion of indigenous minorities in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Area is less than 2% of the total population, they hold the second position in the new Arctic territories. So, as per the 2010 All-Russian census, there are 2,435 Khanty and Mansi residing in the Beloyarsky district, making up 8.10% of the region's total population. The majority of the Russian population is linked to the industrial exploitation of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area—during the Soviet era, geologists, engineers and builders flooded the thinly populated lands, shaping the region's modern industrial appearance.
The role of Khanty and Mansi in the contemporary economy of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area
The Khanty and Mansi are two kinfolk groups who speak languages from the Finno-Ugric family. They have been residing near the Ob River for several millennia, engaging in hunting, fishing and rearing reindeer in the North and other livestock towards the South. The Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area is home to the highest number of Khanty and Mansi, but they also have a presence in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area, Tomsk and Tyumen Regions and the Komi Republic. Historically, they led a semi-nomadic lifestyle—maintaining two settlements, one for summer and another for winter. Presently, this scenario has diversified, with many Khanty and Mansi adopting a settled lifestyle in villages and towns. Nonetheless, this doesn't hinder them from preserving their culture and traditions with care.
Around half of the Khanty and Mansi in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area are involved in traditional natural resource management. Their activities include fishing, hunting and deer rearing. A significant number of them are employed in the timber industry, fisheries and social infrastructure. Tourism has emerged as a new employment sector—with museums, ethnic villages and tours introducing visitors to the region's ancient indigenous traditions. These initiatives serve multiple purposes, including the scientific and social preservation of the heritage of indigenous peoples.
Advantages of the AZRF for the native inhabitants of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area
The new AZRF status for the Beloyarsky and Berezovsky districts in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area signifies a boost in local economic development. Consequently, this will also present new opportunities for the Khanty and Mansi people. Firstly, the influx of new investments into local production significantly broadens the scope for social infrastructure development, including mitigating the impact of industrial enterprises on their operational region. For the indigenous minorities, much like other AZRF regions, the injection of new funds into the economy aids in job creation, local production and supports those Khanty and Mansi living within traditional nature management practices. Currently, a prime example of responsible engagement with local inhabitants is the execution of the Kola deposit development project in the Murmansk Region. There, compensation payments have been proposed to local reindeer herders to counterbalance the economic impact of reduced grazing areas; plans for a tourism cluster construction are also underway, among other things.
Secondly, a surge in production will result in increased tax contributions to the local budget, thereby enhancing the aid provided to local inhabitants. Telemedicine, assistance programmes for young families (for example, the 'plague capital' in YNAA) and the implementation of modern medical care and communication standards in remote areas significantly elevate the safety and living standards of both nomadic and settled village populations. Thirdly, an AZRF resident can be more than just a large mining enterprise. For reindeer herding farms and fishing companies, tax benefits and simplified document flow will provide substantial assistance, simultaneously promoting entrepreneurship within the customary economic system of indigenous peoples.