Expert: We must care for people in the Arctic and restore it for them

Speaking to at the 9th International Forum The Arctic: Today and the Future, Andrei Fedotov described the positions, attitudes and emotions that are required for restoring and preserving the Arctic. Fedotov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to the President of the Russian Federation.

During your speech at the plenary session you suggested dividing up the Arctic. Can you tell us more about this concept?

I didn't suggest dividing up the Arctic. I said it could be regionalized. There are many arguments in favor of this. The Northern Sea Route starts with the Kara Strait, the Kara Sea. The ice-free port of Murmansk is located before this sea. This means year-round navigation and the warm Gulf Stream, which determines many things. Second, it would be accessibility by transport. Up to the Urals there are railways and motor roads that are becoming even more accessible and better quality today. There is an Arctic zone there as well, but in terms of ease of travel and provision of government and all other services it does not compare with the lands to the east of the Urals, where the population density is a lot lower and travel is very difficult.

At today's forum I was a speaker at the panel session on transport and my colleagues representing regions from the Urals and to the east all noted that seasonal patterns and travel are extremely complicated and that something must be done about this.

Furthermore, if you look at a map of the permafrost, you will see that most of it is found in the East, which largely determines the climate there. Of course, the climate in the western Arctic is certainly milder than in the eastern Arctic and this is reflected in specific features. It is recognized unanimously by all those who live in the Arctic and know it. This is why I decided to express my opinion at the panel session. I talked with others at the forum and they all understand this and support my viewpoint.

When does this issue become more urgent? When they start distributing the funding under different programs. Today, there is an artificial competition between Arkhangelsk University, specifically, Northern (Arctic) Federal University and the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk. They are both reputable universities with high competence and their own scientific interests and practices. But the Government has said there will only be one research and education center in the Arctic. I think if our forum presents well-substantiated recommendations to the Government and explains that they conduct studies in different fields and have different scientific interests, including applied research for the economy, these arguments might be accepted. We have talked about this before. I hope those at the forum will support us and that we will continue making such proposals both at public and government venues.

You also said today that there is no need to establish a population limit in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Igor Shpektor holds a contrary view. Can you please explain your position?

Mr Shpektor's opinion is not completely contrary to mine. His approach is simply a bit different. As a seasoned man who worked in the Arctic for many years and was the mayor of Vorkuta, he remembers well the period when the government, people and businesses were leaving this region in the 1990s. The same was taking place in our Yakutia. It was hard to see all this. I felt the same way he did. We have the same negative emotions in this respect. However, now he says that based on this experience it is necessary to find the optimal number of people to live in the Arctic.

My position is somewhat different. The Arctic has already gone through a thinning process, if I may use this expression, in the 1990s and early 2000s. Life is possible and necessary in those residential places that survived it and still exist. There is no need to invent anything else or explain why some villages should be moved, shut down or built in a different place. If life remained in some places during these hard years, it means it is possible and necessary to live there. Therefore, I think the Government should look at this idea and use it as a basis. We need to help the people living in these cities and villages find their path in life and give them an opportunity to live there for generations. I think if we adopt this attitude, the people who have remained there will accept it with great enthusiasm. And this is exactly the meaning of living!

The bottom line is that big goals cannot be reached with programs or money. Human mobilization is a constant. In Soviet times, we often heard an expression that is ascribed to Vladimir Lenin: "When an idea takes over the masses, it becomes powerful." Today's concept to revive the Arctic is very positive. It has encouraged big hopes among the people that live there. Finally, they are getting some attention. They are very enthusiastic about this program. This attitude should not be wasted. It must be used by any means possible. The people should be helped to fill the Arctic with life and human love.

What should the Government do to give people the opportunity to remain where they live now?

They say people will leave the Arctic, especially the younger generation. They will continue leaving it until they see the point of living in the Arctic. Not just the comforts and convenience or big money but also a meaning to life because every person is looking for that. And this meaning boils down to the possibility to live a happy, interesting and beautiful life in the Arctic. Movies and books about life in the Arctic are required for this. We must help everyone, especially young people, find what to do there. There are enthusiasts like this, and the number of such people is growing.

We just attended a meeting of the Council of the Association of Polar Explorers, chaired by Artur Chilingarov. By the way, he worked at our place in his younger years. He headed the Young Communist organization of the Bulunsky District. I also worked there in the same position but much later. In those years people wanted to stay. I left to get an education and graduated from the Civil Aviation Institute in Riga. I grew up in Batagai in the Verkhoyansk District, which is the cold pole. After graduation I could have gotten a job in any civil aviation department in the Soviet Union but I decided to go back to Batagai. I knew they had a big air group there and I could get a job in polar aviation.

I liked books about polar explorers. Roald Amundsen was a favorite during my youth. Young people are carried away by the romantic appeal of it and should not miss out on it. This is the main component of human existence. When we talk about the recovery of the Arctic today we must do so from the human point of view: you are needed here and this is very important for you personally, your family, your friends and the entire country. Probably, the role of the government and public institutions is to bring out these patriotic, positive and normal feelings that are linked with the exploration and protection of the Arctic.

I think there is one possible misconception, notably, that people in the North have to fight for life and have to endure hardships to survive. This is not quite true. I was born in the North and I know what it's like. People live there and enjoy the same human emotions as in any other place on the planet. People that live in the Arctic are preserving the cold. They are the guardians of the cold. As long as it is cold in the Far North, it will be warm in the areas where it is warm now and the climate will be stable. If and when it gets warmer in the Arctic, the Earth's climate will go through a disaster. We northerners understand this. We know how to live in the cold on this territory.

I probably disagree with Igor Shpektor on just one point. Living in Moscow or Yakutsk, we cannot determine how many people should live in the Arctic. For instance, we could say that there should be 3,000 people in my native Batagai but no more than that because it is economically unprofitable. We heard statements like this from Yegor Gaidar in the 1990s. He said we did not need the North and a disaster broke out. We must not repeat the same mistake. This is what I mean. We must primarily care for people in the Arctic and revive it for them with the help of the economy, large companies, and so on. But it should be done for the people.

For example, I met with people from the company that is working with us in the Arctic. When the question is put like this, they have a very good attitude and give a positive answer. I told them that maybe it is better to have relations like: "I'll give you a certain amount of rubles and you'll build a community center for yourself. I'll give you this and I'll bring you that…" It really looks like a reservation. Maybe we should have a different conversation now — let's do something together! Our Government has made or will make a wonderful decision on support for small- and medium-sized businesses. This is the kind of business that can be done by people who live in the Arctic permanently. Large companies can help them under these laws on financial support and benefits. This doesn't cost too much but creates a purpose for working and living there.

Another point that I'd like to make. I think the people who come to develop the natural deposits in the Arctic (they usually work for large companies) should feel at home there, like the indigenous inhabitants. They shouldn't think they have come there to work temporarily on a rotation basis. The mentality of working temporarily must be changed by the general atmosphere around the Arctic. If you have come to the Arctic you should feel like you are on your native land, as a person who brings contentment there and respects the laws of life that were formed over millennia. You should feel at home there. Do you understand what I'm saying? In this case people will think differently about the Arctic and might want to stay there forever at some point. I grew up in a village like that. We had many newcomers. Some people came for three or four years but stayed for 10, 20, and 30 years and sometimes their whole lives. Many of them still stayed there even when our Government abandoned the Arctic, when our society began to be told that we did not need it, that it was a burden for everyone. But their children left, and this is wrong. This is the idea I wanted to bring home to the respected participants in our meeting. The Arctic is for people, for citizens of Russia, for our children and grandchildren. Only by adopting this attitude we will be able to correctly formulate and reach our strategic goals.