Tallinn, 22 July 2005Tallinn, 07 July 2005
For immediate release
Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples
phone/fax: +372 644 9270
e-mail: suri@suri.ee

Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People Collected Eleven Thousand Signatures

Collection of signatures under the Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People will end on 26 April, which is the traditional holiday of the Maris called the Day of the Mari Hero.

The Appeal was published on 22 February last year in the dailies Helsingin Sanomat (Finland) and Eesti Päevaleht (Estonia). The document, drawn by a group of American, British, Swedish, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian politicians and public figures, called on the authorities of the Russian Federation to stop infringing on political and cultural rights of the Maris in the Republic of Mari El, Russian Federation. The authors of the Appeal condemned the attacks on representatives of Mari democratic opposition and urged the Russian government to find out those responsible for the physical assault against Mr. Vladimir Kozlov, a prominent Mari public figure. Kozlov is Editor-in-Chief of an international Finno-Ugric newspaper and head of the all-Russian movement of the Mari people. The authors called on human rights organizations of the world to support the action.

The Appeal was the response to the 7 February report by the Moscow-based Mari El Association who called on the international society and, above all, on Finno-Ugric peoples in Estonia, Finland and Hungary to step out in support of the Mari people in the Republic of Mari El.

The Appeal was opened on the Internet for everyone to join at the address http://www.ugri.info/mari/. The total of 11 000 people from nearly eighty countries added their signatures.

Most of the signatures have come, not unexpectedly, from Finns and Estonians who are kindred peoples to the Maris. However, represented are all European countries, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Signatures came from all continents except for Antarctica. The largest part of signatories are students, teachers and scientists, followed by writers and artists, public figures and politicians.

Several national and international organisations have joined the Appeal, among them ECOTERRA, Unrepresented Nations and peoples Organisations, Student Union of Helsinki University and Estonian Jewish Community. Finally, statements on the situation in Mari El were taken by the European Parliament, the Federal Union of European Nationalities and other organisations.

Nevertheless, the situation has not improved. The persons who assaulted Vladimir Kozlov have not been found. Moreover, a physical assault on Mr. Vasily Petrov, chairman of the Youth Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples, took place last August. The news from Mari El tell of the activists of national movements being threatened by dismissal from their positions. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) published a report on situation in the Republic of Mari El on 1 February. Already on 15 February, in its press release titled Escalating Harassment of Mari National Activists, the IHF reported about the harassment of Mari national activists being further escalated, and expressed its concern with persecution of Mari activists having intensified even more after the report was published. The IHF pointed at the efforts of the administration of Mari El to suffocate the All-Russian Mari Council ‘Mari Ushem’ and the culture society Mer Kanash. “This report shows that members of the Mari national movement have been the targets of a growing crackdown on their activities during the period in office of the current president of Mari El, Leonid Markelov,” the press release said.

However, the Appeal and the actions that followed drew attention of the Russian administration to the situation of the Maris and other Finno-Ugric peoples. At his meeting with Finnish journalists Mr. Mikhail Vasyutin, Minister of Culture and Nationalities Affairs of the Republic of Mari El, promised to take the IHF report into consideration. Several organisations initiated monitoring of the situation of Finno-Ugric peoples in Russia. Members of the Russian parliament, the Duma, discussed these issues twice.

26 April is among the most important traditional holidays of the Maris. According to a legend, Mari freedom fighter Boltush was killed on this day. In 1438 the land of Maris was incorporated into the Kazan Khanate. Russia regards the Land of Maris as its part since 1552 when Kazan was occupied. Nearly half of the Maris were killed in military campaigns waged by the Russians against them, and the Maris responded with the so-called Cheremiss wars (Cheremiss is the old name for Mari) lasting for thirty-two years from 1552 to 1584. There is a lot of folklore materials about these wars. Boltush, who died on 26 April 1556, is remembered as the most famous leader of the resistance movement. The First Mari Congress convened in 1917 resolved to celebrate this date as the Day of the Mari Hero, to remember all those who suffered in the name of freedom. In the early 1990s, leaders of the Mari national movement called upon their people to revive this tradition.