Tallinn, 22 July 2005
Tallinn, 07 July 2005
For immediate release
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The 10th International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies opened today, 15 August, in Yoshkar-Ola, capital city of the Republic of Mari El, Russian Federation.
Of late, the Republic of Mari El has become notorious for constant reports about the violation of rights of the Mari people, cultural and opposition leaders being violently assaulted and murdered, the teaching of Mari language being curbed. For example, notwithstanding the fact that the Maris make up 43 per cent of the population of Mari El, the yearly amount of radio broadcasting in Mari has been limited to 271 hours (44,5 minutes per day).
These circumstances have cast a shadow on the most important event for fennougrists, the international congress. Its President Prof. Yuri Anduganov was recently killed in a mysterious car crash. Three years ago Anduganov was constrained to leave Mari El and continued his work in the neighbouring region; like many other fennougrists, he had doubts about holding a congress in Mari El in the present situation. Many scientists from all over the world have joined The Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People (see http://www.ugri.info/mari). The Appeal was signed by each tenth of those who had intended to participate in this congress and, outside Russia, even by each fourth. Many have now refused to attend the event held in the Mari capital. For example, out of the initial 70 members of the Hungarian delegation, only some twenty have arrived.
One of those who refused to attend the congress, Finnish member of the International Organizing Committee Prof. Pauli Saukkonen, sent the following letter to the Organizing Committee:
'I will thus cancel my participation to the X International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies as a PROTEST against president Markelov's administration and the Russian Foreign Ministry. The answer of the Russian Foreign Ministry to the resolution of European Parliament, concerning the oppression against the Maris and other Finno-Ugric people, included lies and support to Markelov's policy. This i s n o t against the local Organizing Committee. On the contrary: all my best wishes to the Congress and Finno-Ugric Associations.'
The authorities of Yoshkar-Ola have prepared the riot police ready for action. The last week the police carried out exercises in the centre of the city to improve the technique of blocking the street traffic, dispersing demonstrators and evacuating people from the Opera House where the congress will hold its plenary sessions. A ban has been imposed on public assembly in Yoshkar-Ola. The city administration refused to permit the Mari organisation Mari Ushem to hold a meeting this Sunday to welcome the delegates.
At the same time with the congress, Estonian Social Democrat MP Mrs. Katrin Saks will be visiting Mari El with the mission of drawing an official report for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the situation of Finno-Ugric peoples in Russia.
The first congress of Finno-Ugric studies was held in 1960 in Budapest. Since then, congresses are convened each fifth year successively in each of the Finno-Ugric states (up to the 1990s Hungary, Finland and USSR, and today Hungary, Finland, Estonia and Russia). The previous congress took place in 2000 in the Estonian city of Tartu. This will be the second congress hosted by Russia. The 6th congress in 1985 was held in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic of the Russian Federation.