The process of revitalization of culture and indigenous ethnic identity

Report from Evgenia Romanova, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø. Project 200501253-16

Financial support to the project:
“The process of revitalization of culture and indigenous ethnic identity”

The analysis of the actual situation with the observance of the process of revitalization of the Veps ethnic identity and culture is the focus of my research.

The aim of this case study is to explore the identity awareness among the Vepsian people nowadays. The main question is how different national organizations make the Veps people aware of their partly (and sometimes completely) lost ethnic identity within the Russian majority, and compare this to how they identify their ethnicity by themselves? It is interesting to observe how the Veps people present their identity in every-day life, how important for them to show it and how they involve themselves in the process of revitalization of culture and hence language.

Also I would like to analyse how different organizations, institutions and people, including politicians, ethnic elite and mass media, materialize and objectify this ethnic identity and use it promoting their own political issues. To my mind, there is a gap between the grass-root people, official authorities and ethnic leaders in the building of the strong identity self-consciousness that could resist the continued effect of the assimilation processes. Also it is obvious that the ethnic self-identification has changed much accepting different mixed forms in the modern time. In this sense it is interesting to investigate how much and in what ways given ethnic identity has been changed, how it relates to modernity and traditions.

One of the most important issues of the cultural revitalization in general is the development of the language, that is why I mainly collected data about variations in language use (Vepsian, Russia), i.e. how and when the people use the language, culture and, hence, articulate their ethnic identity.

My fieldwork was conducted in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, in June-August 2005. I wrote intensive field notes, interviewed “informants”, conducted censuses, collected empirical and theoretical data. As informants mostly I got in touch with persons with different identities in addition to Vepssians. I also approached persons who were engaged in the ethno-political movement for interviews. Also I analysed some empirical data collected from newspapers, TV and radio broadcast, etc. Mostly, I used the method of participant observation participating in cultural and every-day life practices, events and activities alongside the Veps in the city and along the countryside in the National Vepsian District, such as: the holidays “The Tree of Life”, “The City’s Day”, “St. Ilya’s Day”, etc. I visited the session of the Congress of the Karelian people 2005 and the lectures of the Youth Information and Legal Centre “Nevond”. I interviewed the people from the State Committee of the Republic of Karelia on National politics, the branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the RK, the Petrozavodsk State University and the Karelian Pedagogical University, the Vepsian Cultural society, the newspaper “Kodima”, etc. During my fieldwork I practiced mostly unstructured face-to-face interviewing. The financial support I received from the Sami Centre was indispensable in these activities, and also for buying relevant academic publications.

Read the thesis online – Munin

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