Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples
Press release 07 July 2005
Press releases by the Estonian Institute for Human Rights:
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation supporting the Mari people in Russia
The Resolution in Support of the Mari People was adopted at the 7th General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) held in The Hague, the Netherlands, 24-26 June 2005. It calls upon the Russian Federation to cease their harassment and persecution of the Mari people, to re-institute the Mari language use in all levels of education and all forms of media, to abolish censorship practice and to start punishing those who commit crimes against indigenous people.
The UNPO also supported the international Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People initiated this February by a number of scientists, writers, composers and politicians. By now, the Appeal has been signed by over 10000 people from more than seventy countries and by a number of international organisations, including the UNPO. Everyone can read and sign the Appeal on the Internet page http://www.ugri.info/mari/.
The UNPO unites over fifty peoples who are not represented in the United Nations (see www.unpo.org). Its Finno-Ugric members are Ingrian Finns, Komis, Maris, Udmurts, and the Hungarian minority in Romania; the Estonians had been its members as well until the restoration of independence. The last meeting of Finno-Ugrians under the aegis of UNPO was at the conference "Peoples' Rights: the Ideals and the Reality" after the 4th World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples held in August 2004 in Tallinn, Estonia (see: www.kongress.ugri.info).
The 7th General Assembly of UNPO passed twelve resolutions on the situation of its member peoples. Of the Finno-Ugric peoples, resolutions were taken on the Maris and on the Hungarian minority in Romania. This is not an accident, considering the serious violations of peoples' and ethnic minorities' rights taking place in these regions.
The Resolution in Support of the Mari People says that, during the recent years, things have changed for the worse for the Maris. Indeed, the Republic of Mari El is economically among the most backward regions of the Russian Federation, with over half of its population living under the subsistence level. The Resolution says that the Maris have lost political power in their own republic. This is true as well, since there are only two ethnic Maris among the ministers of the local government. Those who disagree with the local president's policy are dismissed and persecuted at the level of republican, regional and local administrations.
The resolution points that, as the result of underrepresentedness of Maris in the local and regional administration, the Mari people have lost the ability to protect and assure their language and culture. The number of students learning the Mari language has sharply decreased. This is confirmed by the following figures. In the 2000-2001 academic year, according to the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Mari El, the Mari language was studied either as the native language or as the state language by 72 533 schoolchildren (60,3 per cent of the total). In the 2004-2005 year this number has dropped, according to the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, to 52 847 (that is, 44,4 per cent). This year, twelve schools will be closed and 37 schools will be reorganised with the loss of the Mari language instruction.
On the republic's television network, programmes in Mari are limited to three hours per week only. On the Mari Republic's radio station, only two out of eleven hours of its weekly broadcasting are conducted in Mari. One must remember that nearly half of the population of the republic are ethnically Mari. In the Mari Republic Book Publishing House, only 5 to 8 books are printed in the Mari language per year with the money from the Republic's budget.
The resolution also notes the increased censorship of the media and grave infringements of the Mari People's freedom of speech. This is confirmed by the fact that at least 15 newspapers of Mari El are now printed outside the republic. Censorship has reached even the Internet. Since 9 June 2005, web users in the Republic of Mari El can no more access the site of the agency MariUver (www.mari.ee) and the opposition site Vlasti.net. Both sites are critical to the administration of Mari El.
Pointing at the concern expressed by the European Commission and the European Parliament in connection with breach of human rights and democracy in the Republic of Mari El, the General Assembly of UNPO in its resolution calls upon the Russian Federation to cease their harassment and persecution of the Mari people and the degradation of their language and culture, and proposed to allow and support a monitoring process to take place in the Mari Republic, Udmurt Republic, Komi Republic and other Finno-Ugric regions to access the ongoing situation and take positive measures for its improvement. We shall see now whether or not will the Russian Federation listen to the opinion of the international community concerning its harsh nationalities policy.