Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Window on Eurasia: All Finno-Ugrics Are Equal, But Some …

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 30 – Finno-Ugric officials and activists from ten regions of the Russian Federation, Hungary and Finland met last week in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of the Republic of Mari El, to discuss a variety of projects intended to promote their closely-related languages and cultures.
Indeed, all the Finno-Ugric peoples of the world were represented – except one: the Estonians, whose absence reflects not only the recent controversy between Moscow and Tallinn over the demontage of a Soviet war memorial but also strained relations between Estonia and Ioshkar-Ola concerning the state of human rights in Mari El.
In yesterday’s “Udmurtskaya pravda,” journalist Elena Minnigarayeva described the meeting and the scope of its attendees as the product of successful effort 15 years ago of her fellow Udmurts to convene the first All-Russian Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples (
That meeting led to the creation of the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of Russia, to the opening of Finno-Ugric centers in various Russian regions and republics, and to an ever-growing sense of community not only among Finno-Ugric nationalities within Russia but also between them and the three independent Finno-Ugric countries.
The Ioshkar-Ola meeting last week suggests that Russia’s Finno-Ugrics may indeed be able to continue to promote their national identity and maintain contacts with Hungary and Finland but that they will no longer be able to have the kind of ties they have had up to now with Estonia.
Although Minnigarayeva did not mention it, Estonian participation in last week’s meeting could have been especially useful. Estonians, who are among the most Internet-connected nations on earth, undoubtedly could have provided useful input to the Ioshkar-Ola sessions.
The meeting, which assembled in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for providing additional subsidies to federation subjects to allow them to defend and advance the culture of the country’s various indigenous peoples, represented the first assembly of this type, at least among Finno-Ugric groups.
Among the topics, the 240 participants discussed, Minnigarayeva reported, were the use of “computer and information technologies, ethno-futurism, ethno-tourism, questions of civil society, education and public creativity” – all issues on which the Estonians have perhaps the most extensive experience of any Finno-Ugric group.
But having infuriated the Kremlin by their demontage of “the Bronze soldier” and angered the Mari El government by championing in the Council of Europe and elsewhere those being oppressed there, Estonians apparently are no longer welcome, even in venues where other Finno-Ugrics would expect them to appear.
The absence of the Estonians at this session both recalls the kind of cultural politics typical of Soviet times and almost certainly points to more such limitations ahead, for as the “Udmurtskaya pravda” journalist said in another connection, “all great things begin with small ones.”

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