and social environment for the reindeer herding in the Kola
deterioration of the Russian economy in 1998 has strongly affected
the northern periphery. This paper follows a ten weeks fieldwork
conducted during the spring 1999, mainly at the reindeer herding
camp No. 1, belonging to the former state farm Pamyat’ Lenina
Lenin’). My concern is how the economic relationships in the
very periphery are redefined in response to centre’s pressures.
During Soviet rule, the traditional reindeer husbandry was
reorganised into collective farms (kolkhoz) and later into
state farms (sovkhoz). Created in 1921 in the village of
Krasnoschelie, the Kolkhoz has progressively formed what will be
later called ‘agrocentre’. Classed as perspectivnoe (‘with
the village of Krasnoschelie became a local agrocentre after the
fusion with two other kolkhoz’ (Ponoy and Sosnovka) in
1962. Then the improved Kolkhoz was renamed Pamyat’ Lenina
. It was transformed into a state farm (sovkhoz) in 1971.
In terms of reindeer husbandry, Pamyat’ Lenina has been
the second biggest state farm after the sovkhoz ‘Tundra’
in Lovozero. It consists of four operating brigades with 10
herders each one and nearly 20 000 reindeer. The ‘Tundra’
state farm was reported to include 25 000 reindeer in 2001 (Jernsletten
& Klokov, 2002). Both state farms are situated in the eastern
part of the peninsula, encompassing nearly the entire tundra
region of Kola, administratively defined as Lovozero District.
The tundra camp of brigade No. 1 is located on the Iokanga
River 350 km. away from the municipal centre Lovozero. Its
economic centre, though, is in Krasnoschelie, which, despite of
the status of ‘agrocentre’ is in fact a remote village not
connected to the road system of the peninsula. The social
environment of the reindeer herders has definitively changed after
president Yeltsine and prime minister Chubais started reforms on
privatisation (Zakon “O privatizatzii gosudarstviennyh i
munitzipial’nyh predpriiatiy v RSFSR “, 1991). In this
paper I argue that the economic crisis during the transition in
Russia is investing the geographical isolation of the tundra
regions into a syncretic network of heterogeneous economic models
which relates the reindeer herding brigade as a ‘convergence
point’. Indeed, the tundra-camped brigade has to manage both its
inherited Soviet-like relationship with the centre(s) and its
informal deals with the new tundra actors. The main actors in the
agrocentre and the tundra are depicted in Table 1.
Farm economic centre
hunters; military, geologists, hunters, poachers
Sovkhoz administration - Brigades
Brigades - other tundra actors
1. The main actors in the agrocentre and the tundra, as well as
their economic and social relationship. The paper focuses the
periphery and emphasise the “tundra perspective”.
As for the ethnic landscape, there is a great deal of
ethnic variety in the brigades with no clear distinction, due to
the many mixed marriages and the industrial migration from the
south in Soviet times. However, one could say that the Sami
represent the majority in "Tundra" brigades, whereas the
Komi are predominant in "Pamyat’ Lenina" herding
collectives. The Nenets, though, are represented in all the
brigades, as well as Russians descendants of the 1930s labour
migrants. Brigade No. 1 of Krasnoschelie consists of ten herders
including six Komis, two Nenets, one Sami and one young Russian
herder. The chief brigadier and his deputy are Komi brothers.
According to the Soviet organisation of the reindeer herding, the brigade
consists of ten herders and two female chum-rabotnitsi
(tent helpers), usually relatives (wives) to some of the
brigade’s herders. A particularity of Krasnoschelie’s herding
brigades is the lack of female tent workers after 1991. This is
not the case in Lovozero’s tundra camps, nor to other herding
brigades in the Russian north. Comparing to Lovozero,
Krasnoschelie is a very remote settlement, cut from all
communication system, with a poorer farm as unique economic actor.
Its herding camps are too far from either the village and the
slaughter house near Lovozero. May be the geographic isolation and
the absence of cash for the tundra workers are the main reasons
why the herder’s wives don’t work in the tundra camps. This is
the case in Brigade No. 1 where a former construction worker from
the sovkhoz has been working as a tent helper (‘polar’)
since 1993 when the chief-brigadier asked him to join the brigade.
At 53, he is the oldest in the brigade and uncle to one of the
herders. His ethnic history could be representative of the current
identity issues, although these are not the subject of this paper.
He is the descendant of a great and famous Nenets family of
reindeer herders from Yamal (Nenetskiy okrug, north-west Siberia).
They came to the Kola peninsula during the great Komi-Nenets
migration in late 19th century when a disastrous epidemic was
killing the reindeer herds in north-west Siberia. His father was a
herder and owner of 300 animals expropriated during the Soviet
‘collectivisation campaign’ in the north in the 1930s. His
mother was tent helper and artist of traditional Nenets herder’s
clothes represented at exhibitions in Moscow. He married a Komi
girl from Krasnoschelie and they had four children. Despite his
well-known Nenets family and his marriage with a Komi woman, his
passport says that he is ... Sami. He has never explained this
point to me but as described also by Konstantinov (1996: 54),
ethnicity in the region is “to a large extent self-ascribed and
This paper is thus based on field notes usually taken during our daily
activities in the tundra camp (mostly feeding the transport
animals, making and preparing the sledges, searching and stocking
wood, hunting; fishing in June) or during group discussions.
No formal interviews were done during the field-work. Only
informal talks and mostly oral history was taken into account; a
few written texts were consulted.