Elena Eltc (St. Petersburg State University):

Museums of Vepsian culture and ethnocultural rights

Due to the rise of ethnonational  movements of Vepsians and other Finno-Ugric peoples in regions of the Russian Federation and building the national, international societies and institutions promoting  cultural and natural heritage of peoples of Finno-Ugric group since the late 1980s, in regions and municipalities with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, there have been mechanisms for cooperation between the authorities and civil society. As a result, the cultural and ethnic policy in regions includes the various actions that seek to emphasize ethnic identity and  realization of self-consciousness through indigenous identity. Among other things, the promotion of local museums, traditional arts and crafts and introduction and the implementation of festivals, the most famous of which is annual festival “The Tree of Life”, held since 1987 in areas of the Republic of Karelia, Leningrad oblast and Vologodsky region.

Spontaneously created collections were taking on an ethnic dimension in the 1970 and under the rise of ethnonational movements of Vepsians became involved in work of realising the Vepsian ethnocultural rights.

Local museums, many of which have their roots in school museums, began to emerge in 1970 with collecting of Vepsian artifacts in indigenous areas, the assimilation of artefacts in private and non-state public collection. The pupils and teachers collected the items in the deserted Vepsian villages; the collections of material culture continued to accumulate through the gifts of local peoples.

Inherited from the Soviet period well-established forms school museums have achieved important ethnic significance in the contemporary ethnically active periodе thanks to folklore activities, voluntary Vepsian language learning, guided tours led by pupils, folk arts and handicraft, direct relationship to the material world raising a particular type of ethnic awareness.

The process of developing of the network of school museums have been hindered by the lack of official status and methodological assistance, liquidation of a number of schools. The future of school museums (provision of/search for the physical space to house the museum, the museum status, voluntary or state-financed work related to ethnic activites etc.) has been placed in the hands of local authorities, regional formal Vepsian ethnic organizations and local communities. The initiative to gather museum collections was launched by persons, who sought to maintain a disappearing heritage.The collection concept, the number and inventory of exhibits, conservation and exhibition activities of the museums rest on the vision of collector–initiator, depend on their current status and are not always clear-cut. A key feature is the demonstration of artefacts of Vepsian traditional culture in their own original environment, which forms with the surrounding nature and culture a single living complex, is perceived as peculiar part of today's culture of Vepsians and contributes to preservation of local community’s cultural heritage, to development and to the fashioning of its national identity. Organizational and legal forms of museums and forms of museum work remain dynamic and balancing and strongly depend on initiatives of local authorities, local enthusiasts, Vepsian ethnic organizations, regional target programmes. Local museums closely relate to the other cultural and educational institutions, such as libraries, schools, House of cultures and Vepsian ethnic organizations handicrafts centres.