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


In connection with the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Finland, Chair of the nongovernmental organisation 'Mari Ushem' Nina Maksimova sent an open letter to President of Finland Tarja Halonen. Pointing at the Maris being a kindred people to the Finns, she asked the Finnish President to personally inform Putin of the actual social, economic and political situation in the Republic of Mari El, since none of the appeals sent by the Maris to the Russian President was answered.

The letter says that Head of the local administration Leonid Markelov, elected in 2000, has created an "authoritarian regime" and established "the information blockade" in the republic and around it. "The constitutional rights to the access to information and freedom of expression are violated. Private newspapers are printed outside the republic. [...] After the last presidential elections in December 2004, black lists were compiled and the local administrations and institutions have been purged from people who had voted for 'wrong' candidates."

In the open letter, the present economic situation in Mari El is described as desperate. Under the present administration, the Republic of Mari El "has become among the poorest in Russia". "Villages are dying out, unemployment and poverty have rocketed. [...] Every fifth is unemployed. [...] Over half of the population have incomes below the subsistence level, and over one-third have incomes less than half of the subsistence level. [...] During the last three years the average life expectancy in the republic has shrunk by one year. [...] The shortage of protein in the ration of people in Mari El has reached 20 per cent. Medical studies have revealed many groups among the population who suffer from albuminous and calorie deficiency. Consumption of fish and sea-food has decreased five times. The level of suicides in Mari El is highest in Russia, particularly among children and teenagers. The death rate of the population considerably exceeds the birth rate and the population is decreasing with a disastrous speed."

The actions of the republic's administration in ethnic issues "have produced a sharp interethnic conflict. [...] All over Mari El, the Mari language is deliberately eradicated from educational institutions. [...] The plans are drawn to close down all rural school, replacing them with boarding schools. "Each county would have one or two large boarding schools where all children from the county would be pulled together. The only language of instruction in such schools is Russian."



This February, having failed to get any response from the regional and federal authorities, non-governmental organisations of the Maris called on the international community to take up their cause. The response came from American, British, Swedish, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian scientists and public figures, including prominent politicians, European MPs and ex-presidents of Nordic and Baltic countries. They addressed the Russian government with the Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People and called on human rights organisations and the international community to join the Appeal by signing it on the web page www.ugri.info/mari.

By now, the appeal has collected over 10 000 signatures from seventy-three countries, including:

1344 scientists, professors, lecturers, medical doctors and lawyers
301 politicians and members of non-governmental organisations
620 literary people and journalists
581 composers, artists and actors
544 people engaged in business and administration
363 engineers, sea captains and other technical specialists
38 ecclesiastics
2302 students
88 organisations who signed the Appeal 'in corpore'

Collection of signatures via the Internet is going on.