The Komi people live in the Republic of Komi, the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Murmansk Oblast. There are also some Komi groups in the Siberian part of Russia. In the Russian Federation’s legislation the Komi are not recognised as indigenous peoples, but they have that status in the legislation of the Komi Republic. The Komi are also a minority in all these territories, even in the Republic of Komi, where they make only 23.3% of the whole population. In some industrial areas, for example in Vorkuta, only 1% of the population is Komi. In the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, they make up 9.5% of the population.
The Komi people face similar problems to those of other indigenous peoples of the Russian territories of the Barents region: the loss of language and culture. The number of Komi has been increasing in Russia during this century, but the knowledge of their native language has been decreasing. For the Komi, the question of language is very important, and during the past years much attention has been paid to the language use and education. Today, Komi is an official language in the Republic of Komi together with Russian. During the Soviet era, there was no Komi curriculum in schools, although there were Komi language lessons. The situation is changing now: there are national and local newspapers and journals in the Komi language, and sometimes articles in Komi are published in Russian newspapers. Also the local radio broadcasts four hours and the television two hours daily of programmes in the Komi language. Komi is also taught in schools, and although there are still no pure Komi schools, there aye some school, where the language of teaching is Komi during the first four grades.
However, the school instruction in Komi is not available everywhere and parents often prefer Russian schools. There is also a lack of schoolbooks in Komi language. In villages, where the Komi are in majority, the native language is used as the first language in kindergarten, but the children can also attend classes of Russian language. The publication of books in Komi language has increased and some Komi writers write in their native language. There is also a Komi theatre in Syktyvkar and Komi folklore groups in other areas. In the University of Syktyvkar, students can study Komi language. Nowadays, the regional issue has been noticed more in the curriculum, and for instance the University of Syktyvkar has a Fenno-Ugric faculty.
More than half of the Komi lived in rural areas in 1989. Their level of education was lower than that of the Russian population, who lived in the Republic of Komi. The Komi became also politically active in the 1980s and established their own organisations in the Republic.
In 1991, these organisations held their first congress and established a Committee for the Revival of the Komi people. The Committee has worked actively for the improvement of the status of the Komi people in the Republic and it has an official status. Komi people living outside the Republic do not have official indigenous status, but peoples’ awareness of their own culture has been increasing. In the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, some schools have mother-tongue lessons for Komi children. The local radio has a programme in Komi language once a week and the ethno-cultural centre in Naryan Mar also works for the revival of the Komi culture. In many villages Komi have their own folklore groups.
In the village of Lovozero in the Murmansk Oblast, Komi have their own folklore group and there is also a small Komi section in the local ethno-cultural centre. Some schools in Lovozero have Komi lessons for Komi children. Komi are latecomers into the Murmansk Oblast. The first Komi moved with a few Nenets people to Kola Peninsula at the end of last century from what is now the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Those Izhma-Komi were reindeer herders and they continued herding also in the Murmansk Oblast. Over the years, there have been a few conflicts between Sami and Komi concerning reindeer pastures. The Komi people have had a great influence on the Sami culture.
Source: The Economic Geography and Structure of the Russian Territories of the Barents Region, Arctic Centre Reports 31.