Tallinn, 22 July 2005Tallinn, 07 July 2005
For immediate release
Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples
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A seminar on rights, with illustrations

*Participants in a seminar on the rights of ethnic and language minorities and indigenous peoples learned that Russia interrupted a Mari minority representative from travelling to Helsinki. At the same time, a search was carried out at his home.*

The international seminar "The Rights of ethnic and language minorities and indigenous peoples. Mechanisms and practice of realisation. Prospects of development" was hosted May 15-16 by the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Helsinki together with the Consultative Committees of Finno-Ugric Peoples, the Finland-Russia Society and the M. A. Castrén Society. Unlike the propaganda event "The Maris and the Mari culture in the 21st century as a part of the Russian and European community", organised by the Russian Embassy in Finland this March, this time the discussion had mostly practical and critical character. The development of legislations in various countries and regions were discussed, and the problems of autonomous districts and republics analyzed.

Speakers included head of administration of the Mordovian Republic (Russia) Mr. Nikolai Merkushkin, Adviser of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation Mr. Vladimir Kryazhkov, representatives of the human rights organisation Memorial (Russia), Finnish and Russian researchers. The seminar was co-chaired by head of the Centre of Science and Culture Mrs. Tatyana Kleyerova (Karelia) and head of the Finland-Russia Society Mrs. Merja Hannus.

Finland highly values and develops its bonds with the kindred Finno-Ugric peoples, and frequently organises international events on their culture. On the same day with the seminar at the Russian Centre, an advanced course in museology "Contemporary Finno-Ugric Museums – for Contemporary Society" was opened in Helsinki, led by Mr. Ildiko Lehtinen, PhD, Chairman of the M. A. Castrén Society and Keeper of the Finnish Museum of Cultures. Eleven directors of museums were invited to attend the course.

On the opening day of both events, their participants were struck by the news that one of the participants in the museum course did not arrive, taken off the train by the Russian authorities. The incident took place in the Russian Moscow-Helsinki train "Leo Tolstoy", in which participants from the Mari minority travelled. The procedure handed over their passports to the conductor who handed them over to the Russian border guard for control. In Viipuri (Vyborg), border guards entered the carriage, asked: "Who is Kozlov?", and said that the passport was void because its pages 12-13 and 23-24 were missing. The pages were empty. However, as they were torn off by someone during the passport control, the document became invalid.

The passenger removed from the train was Mr. Vladimir Kozlov, director of the Valentin Columb Museum, and Chairman of the All-Mari Council. The pretext that the passport was out of order does not hold water because otherwise the Finnish embassy would not have issued the visa.

This is another step in the undeclared war waged by the Russian authorities against the All-Mari Council and his chairman V. Kozlov. Uneasy about the activity of Mari ethnic movements, the authorities seek to make them silent. Various provocations have taken place, including physical assault and battery, murders of human rights activists and journalists. An attack of still unidentified criminals on Kozlov in 2005 caused international protest. The Maris themselves have complained mainly of the policy of the local head Leonid Markelov who has introduced a semi-fascist regime in his administrative unit. However, the concurrence of provocations arranged by the Moscow-appointed governor and by the federal border guard indicates that the persecution of Mari intelligentsia is coordinated directly from Moscow. This is confirmed by the latest news that today, while Kozlov is travelling from the Leningrad region to his home in Yoshkar-Ola, the authorities carried out a search at his home.

A conclusion arises that Russia is returning to the methods of Brezhnev-time practice: the already forgotten category of "nevyezdnoi" (the prohibition to travel abroad) is re-established, and the totalitarian system is restored with all the institutions, from a border guard to a yard-keeper, strictly following the same orders.