Good News- Russia: Sacred Sites are Protected by Local Executive Power

July 02, 2012

On June 20th, the regional government of the Altai Republic in Russia reviewed and passed a decree on the “Preservation and Development of Sacred Sites of the Altai Republic.” The decree imposes restrictions on various kinds of activities at sacred sites, including any activity resulting in resulting in damage to the top soil leading to geological exposure causing irreversible changes to the hydrological regime and any activities resulting in the destruction of the natural habitats of plant and animal species, among other activities.

Essentially, through this decree, the governor of the Altai Republic is instructing local authorities to make laws to protect these sacred sites which are being threatened by the construction of a gas pipeline by the Russia’s natural gas company Gazprom.  The pipeline across the Ukok Plateau has been called a “moral violence against people,” by Urmat Knyazev, a deputy in the Altai republic’s legislative assembly.

During the meeting the Minister of Culture, Vladimir Konchev emphasized that according to this decree, the term “sacred sites” is defined to include natural elements as places of worship, including mountains, passes, rivers lakes, trees, springs, sanctuaries, as well as places of religious ceremonies, historical events, and ancestral lands.  The decree also extends to protect cultural objects: ceremonial structures, monuments such as petroglyphs, burial mounds, and rock statues, since all of these are elements of local traditions, customs, and ceremonies the local populations of Altai inherited from their ancestors. 

The decree was prepared in response to an order issued by the Governor of the Altai Republic, Alexander Berdnikov, who requested the “design of measures that help organize restore, and preserve sacred sites across the entire Republic of Altai.  In response the Ministry of Culture of the Altai Republic developed the “Concepts for the Preservation and Development of Sacred Sites.” The Minister of Culture, Vladimir Konchev, noted that the Republic of Altai is the first Siberian region that adopted such a decree. The meeting concluded with the Governor’s remark that the decree should not in any way infringe on the rights of tourists and guests of Altai or the interests of local people irrespective of their ethnicity.

Our campaign partners are celebrating the decree as a too to help in the struggle against the pipeline building, by legitimizing the need for protection of the Altai sacred sites that exist in the Ukok Plateau.  However, they noted that the Russian government might ignore the decree.

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Please TAKE ACTION to ensure that the sacred sites of the Telengit Indigenous people are protected. 

See the original press release in Russian, here