Tallinn, 19 May 2005
For immediate release


Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples
phone/fax: +372 644 9270
e-mail: suri@suri.ee


The eightieth jubilee of Andrei Eshpai, a well-known Russian composer of
Mari origin, was celebrated today (18 May) in the National Drama of the
Republic of Mari El, but without Eshpai himself. He did not come for his
birthday to Yoshkar-Ola, the capital city of his homeland. Earlier the
master rejected a proposal by Aleksandr Sokolov, Minister of Culture of Mari
El, to host the celebrations.

The most known Mari composer who is the laureate of many awards and titles
of the Russian Federation and the USSR expressed his anxiety about the plans
of local Russian-dominated administration to close down the Yoshkar-Ola
Music School, the centre of Mari musical culture, and to incorporate it into
a local college. He is also indignant about the present cultural and
nationalities policy in Mari El and about undemocratic dismissal of the
mayor of his home town Kozmodemyansk.

Andrei Eshpai, whom five years ago President Vladimir Putin personally
congratulated on his birthday (15 May), has added his signature to the
Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People in which a group of scientists, writers,
composers and politicians denounced the restriction of cultural and language
rights of the Maris and the repressions against the democratic opposition in
Mari El. The appeal is open at www.ugri.info/mari for everyone to sign, and
people from over 60 countries have already joined it.

The Republic of Mari El is an administrative unit of the Russian Federation
located about 500 miles to the east from Moscow. It has the population of
728 thousands of whom the Maris make up now only 43 per cent. The press,
radio and television broadcasting in the Mari language have been restricted
in the recent years and education in the native language is almost
nonexistent. A wide international protest was caused this February by the
assault and battery of Vladimir Kozlov, Chairman of the all-Russian Movement
of the Mari People. This month, the European Parliament and the Federal
Union of European Nationalities called on Russia to stop infringing on the
rights of the Maris.