Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Finno-Ugrics tell Medvedev They’d Be Happy to Have Half the Rights of Ethnic Russians in Estonia

Paul Goble

Baku, May 22 – A Mordvin newspaper has published an open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev bemoaning the ways in which Russian officials are undermining the future of the Finno-Ugric peoples of the country and saying that the latter would be more than pleased if they had even a few of the rights the supposedly “oppressed” ethnic Russians do in Estonia.
The appeal, which was prepared by Grigory Musalev, the head of the Mordvin Republic Foundation for the Salvation of the Erzyan Language, appears in the current issue of the Saransk newspaper, Erzyan’ Mastor ( It has already been picked up by the site in Moscow (
The demographic decline of the Finno-Ugric peoples within the Russian Federation is ahas been going on throughout the last century, but Musalev argues that Russian officials now are not only accelerating that decline by their policies but destroying the very fabric of Finno-Ugric life in their rush to “russianize” and “Christianize” these peoples.
He notes that of the five governors of Finno-Ugric regions, only one – Nikolai Merkushkin of Mordvinia – is currently a Finno-Ugric, but even under his leadership, “the languages and cultures of the Erzya and Moksha ethnoses [the two component parts of the Mordvin nation] have come to a critical condition.”
And Musalev points out that they and the other officials who are organizing the upcoming Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples are precisely those who prepared the denunciation of Katrin Saks’ report to the Euro-Parliament which described the terrible situation which these nations now find themselves in the Russian Federation.
“A congress with such representation,” Musalev continues, is “a fiction clearly intended to conceal from the international community [and especially from the three currently independent Finno-Ugric countries, Estonia, Finland and Hungary] the rapidly approaching death in Russia of the Finno-Ugric Peoples.”
But the Finno-Ugric activist uses his letter to make a broader point that just about the latest example of Russian officials attempting to take over nominally public organizations and thus prevent others from finding out what is going on. Indeed, these arrangements suggest that some officials are “satisfied” by the disappearance of these peoples and their languages.
Last year, he writes, 66 intellectuals signed an appeal to the head of the Mordvin republic asking for a meeting to discuss how to save their native languages and cultures. They did not get a response, although officials denounced them as “extremists” and “nationalists” for even raising the issue.
It turns out, he says, that the governor “is interested only in priests and sportsmen. All the rest – economics, culture, education, science, literature, and his native people – are a matter of indifference. “ And instead of building factories and schools, Merkushkin is “putting up churches for a population” consisting of followers of the national religion or unbelievers.
“Soon there will be more priests in Mordvinia than teachers, scholars, workers and peasants, and the republic will cease its existence,” Musalev writes. But even before that happens, “crime and prostitution are flourishing as a result of the collapse of morality and the forced imposition of Christianity” on a pagan people.
When Mordvins knew their national languages and followed their traditional religion, their “own ethnic god, there was practically no crime among them. But now they violate the law, morality and the precepts of Christ just as frequently as Orthodox Christians. That which was built by [their] ancestors over the course of centuries is being [quickly] destroyed.”
Another target of Musalev’s anger is Valeriy Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and another one of the organizers of the upcoming Finno-Ugric congress. Tishkov, Musalev says, has “advised” Moscow to view all those who speak up on behalf of the Finno-Ugric peoples as “extremists and separatists.”
(At the end of 2007, prosecutors in Mordvin did bring an accusation of extremism against the newspaper in which Musalev’s letter appears and the organization he heads, but there is no indication that they did so on the basis of Tishkov’s advice. More likely, the authorities took this step because of the group’s regular criticism of Governor Merkushkin.)
Musalev appeals to the Russian president to do three things. First, he expresses the hope that Medvedev will intervene to open up the Finno-Ugric congress to genuine voices of the people. Second, he asks Medvedev to pay more attention to what the people say than to what self-satisfied and self-interested officials say.
And third, he appeals to the new president to stop the forcible russianization and Christianization of non-Russian and non-Christian peoples lest Russia lose the vitality that its multi-national and poly-confessional nature has conferred upon it from its foundation to the most recent days.
If the Finno-Ugric peoples disappear – and according to Musalev, “someone in Russia very much wants” their death – then where will Russian find its future Ilya Muromtsevs, its Shalyapins, its Gorkys, its Lenins, its Yesenins and its Putins in the future, all of whom have their roots in this ancient group of nations?
And then he concludes with a statement that highlights his despair but that could lead to more charges of “extremism”: We Finno-Ugrics, he says “will be grateful to the government of Russia if the indigenous peoples of [this country] are given even half of the rights of the ‘mistreated’ Russians in the Baltic countries and Ukraine.”

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