“It Is Not Our Reindeer but Our Politicians that Are Wild:”1 Contests over Reindeer and Categories in the Kola Peninsula, Northwestern Russia

Vladislava Vladimirova

Abstract

This paper discusses contests over reindeer in the Kola Peninsula, northwest Russia, between Rossel’khoznadzor, an organization representing state interests, and two reindeer herding cooperatives, supported by the local village population. By analyzing the use of diverse categorizations like wild and civilized in the conflict, the paper shows how the state organization tries to revive Soviet configurations of power relations legitimised on the premises that indigenous people occupy a lower level of development and the state is a civilizing force, in order to impose control on and grab reindeer from the herding cooperatives. Finally, one might conjecture that this is also an attempt to gain official recognition of a market ideology at the expense of community and tradition based values. Against this, the cooperatives and the local community oppose their most powerful weapon—symbolic capital, based on the widely spread idea that reindeer herding is the economic, symbolic, and cultural stronghold of the region. “We live and work on the same land, but every one of us tries to take a larger share of our commonnatural resources, and this won’t bring us any good.” Vasilii Filippov, the Chair of the Lovozero Council of the Veterans of War and Labor(Kondrat’ev 2004)

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