Tallinn, 22 April 2005
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Estonian Member of European Parliament on discussion with Russian parliamentarians on Russia’s minorities
"At our meeting, we raised the issue of violations of the rights of Russian minorities. The Russian delegates treated this matter rather superficially and we did not feel genuine concern. They turned more serious only when we insisted and stressed the importance of this subject to us", says European MP Tunne Kelam, describing the sitting of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Co-operation Committee held on 19-20 April in Moscow.
At these talks with their Russian counterparts the Europeans raised the issue of infringement on the rights of the Maris, a 650-thousand strong Finno-Ugric minority. This includes a wave of physical attacks against Mari cultural workers and opposition, as well as restrictions on the use of the native language in school teaching, broadcasting and publications.
"It is our duty to raise these issues, and we did that. However, we will have to constantly remind the Russians of the existing problems, and produce facts. Above all, we must achieve clarity in the case of merciless battery of Chairman of Mari Congress Mr. Vladimir Kozlov. I have a strong doubt about possible results of the procrastinated investigation into this case", says Tunne Kelam who is also a member of the Committee on Regional Development and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence of the European Parliament.
Commenting on the handling of the situation of Russia’s minorities by the European Parliament, Kelam said: "The Finno-Ugric topic is pretty new to most of the European delegates. Those Finno-Ugric peoples who are represented in the EU must acquaint others with the problem and explain who the Finno-Ugric peoples are. They must also explain the problems of Russia's minorities, their cultural rights and their effort to retain their ethnic identity. This requires long-run activities. I hope that the Finno-Ugric Forum established now in the European Parliament will help to spread information and achieve understanding. This needs speaking everywhere about these problems, as well as producing documents and reports. The issue of Russia’s minorities, including Finno-Ugric peoples, will certainly become an important issue to the European Parliament."
A day before, on 19 April, at the meeting of the delegation with Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Vladimir Chizhov, Tunne Kelam urged on Chizhov to take the situation of the Maris very seriously. Earlier, when a Hungarian representative drew Chizhov's attention to the events like battery and assassination of journalists and opposition leaders, Chizhov reacted by saying that the rate of crimes against ethnic Maris does not exceed the average rate in the Russian Federation and he did not see a problem.
Tunne Kelam drew the attention of Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister to suppression of cultural rights of the Mari nation. According to Kelam, Chizhov promised to consider these facts seriously and pass them to the relevant authorities. He excused by having never been to the administrative area where the Maris live, the Republic of Mari El, and by his ignorance of the situation.