|Multiculturalism in Europe and North America
Summer semester 04/05
A maltreated minority -
political terror in Mari El
Wednesday 18:30-19:50, Jinonice 2019
Erasmus student, Finland
Today our world is fighting racism and discrimination by many means and we have come a long way the last 50 years. But still in year 2005 there are many minorities that are experiencing discrimination every day and the world is slow in reacting. One case of minority abuse in Europe that caught my attention as a Finn is the political terror that has been going on for a couple of years already in one of Russia’s federal republics. In a republic called Mari El people from the Finno-Ugric family lives in fear and distress from being oppressed by their present government. The situation in Mari El has got a lot of media attention in Finland and Estonia, and at this time also the European Union has started to act to get rid of these violations against human rights and specially the rights of minority groups.
2. What is a minority?
Human rights are commonly understood as being those rights which are inherent in the mere fact of being human. The concept of human rights is based on the belief that every single human being is entitled to enjoy his or her rights without unreasonable distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Human rights are legally protected under international human rights law, which obliges States to guarantee rights under treaties which they have accepted or under the norms of customary law which apply to all States. A variety of mechanisms and procedures has been developed to assist in ensuring that human rights norms are fully implemented. (Basic Human Rights Principles)
Almost all States have one or more minority groups within their national territories, characterized by their own ethnic, linguistic or religious identity which differs from that of the majority population. Harmonious relations among minorities and between minorities and majorities and respect for each group's identity is a major determinant for peace and stability within the states. Discrimination which affects minorities in a negative manner - politically, socially, culturally or economically - persists and is a major source of tension in many parts of the world. Discrimination has been interpreted to "imply any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, ..., language, religion, ..., national or social origin, ..., birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms" (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)
International Law has so far provided us with no universally accepted and binding definition of a minority, and efforts by the United Nations to define a minority have proved unsuccessful (Minority Rights). But there are many definitions from the UN anyway, the first effective definition was provided by UN Special Rapporteur Francesco Capotorti and has undoubtedly contributed to clarifying certain aspects of what constitutes a minority: “A group, numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, in a non-dominant position, whose members- being nationals of the State- possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language”.(1977, Minority Rights) An preamble of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities is a good guideline also:”... The promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities contribute to the political and social stability of States in which they live”. (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)
The Permanent Court of Justice has as early as 1919 given a definition, often used in international and human rights law, relating to the emigration of Greco-Bulgarian communities at that time: “..A group living in a given country or locality, having a race, religion, language and traditions of their own, and united by the identity of such race, religion, language and traditions, maintaining their own form of worship, securing the instruction and upbringing of their children in accordance with the spirit and traditions of their race and mutually assisting one another”. (Minority Rights)
3. Basic facts about the Republic of Mari El
Mari El is one of Russia’s 89 a republics, situated about 800 km east of Moscow. The capital is Yoshkar Ola and the state languages are Mari and Russia, slightly more people speak Russia- 47 % and Mari accounts for 43% of the whole population that is a bit over 760 000 people (census of 2000). There are also other minority languages in the republic like Tatar, Chuvash, Udmurt and others. (Travel Agency Virginia & Encyclopedia)
The state government consists of an assembly with 67 deputies and a president with executive power who is elected for 4 years by general election. The Volga river divides the region in two, and the native Mari people subdivide it into “Plain Mari” on the left bank of Volga and “Hilly Mari” live on the right side. The Mari language is either plain or hilly, depending on the language, cultures and traditions.(Travel Agency Virginia) The language Mari is Volga-Finnic, a branch of the Finno-Ugric of the Uralic family of languages (Russia Trek).
The earlier official name of the Mari people is Cheremis(s). The Maris are the only Finno-Ugric nation in Russia whose poplutaion has increased steadily, in spite of a slight decrease in the use of their native language. The Maris have retained their language better than any other Finno-Ugric nation. (Hunmagyar)
The republic has many small rivers also and a numerous of lakes (over 600) which is the main tourist attraction for their natural beauty, cool and pure water, the rivers and lakes are also full of fish and many fishermen comes there all year around. (Travel Agency Virginia)
The most important resource of the Mari Republic is its forest. Other industries include metal working, paper, woodworking and food processing. Mari is one of the few agricultural areas in the world where bee-keeping has a market economic importance. (Russia Trek & Hunmagyar) The Mari people are known to others for their wood and stone carving and embroidery (Encyclopedia).
3.1 History of the Maris
Ancient Mari’s were occupied with agriculture, cattle-breeding, hunting and some trades. Mari people were excellent hunters and they traded with the neighbouring tribes: Slavs, Mordva, Tatars, Bashkir etc. and exchanges furs for precious metals, jewellery and dishes. (Global 7 Network) In the 8th century Khazar influence became dominant but by the mid 9th century, the Volga Bulgarians had significantly increased their cultural and political influence in the region, and displaced Khazar influence among the Maris. The Volga-Bulgarians remained in control until the arrival of the Mongol-Tatars in 1230. (Hunmagyar)
In the second half of the 16th century, defensive battles of the Maris, in the Russian history known as Cheremiss wars, ended in defeat. Many Maris resettled east, Russian colonization started; Russian Orthodox missionaries first reached the Mari in the 16th century, and begun the long, difficult attempt to convert them to Christianity. (Hunmagyar) In the 18th century tsarist Russia suppressed the cultural development of Mari and the migration of Maris continued under the increased ideological pressure exercised by the Russians (extensive conversion to Orthodoxy). In 1920 Mari became an autonomous region, but the Mari language was eliminated from the school and the culture suffered from mass collectivisation. In 1936 the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created and as late as 1990 the Supreme Soviet of Mari declared sovereignty of the republic. In 1991 the Mari became a member of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO). (Russia Trek) The republic changed it name in 1992 by adding El to Mari to get the current name Mari El (Tiscali Reference).
4. Current situation in Mari El
In January 1997 presidential elections were held in the Republic of Mari. In the final round of the elections, both final candidates were Russians who did not speak the Mari language. The elections were won by V. Kislitsy. Since the beginning of his term, many Mari officials have been removed from key positions in society and have been replaced by Russians. (Russia Trek & Hunmagyar)
Today’s president in Mari El is Leonid Markelov, a native of Moscow who does not speak the Mari language. He has won the last two presidential elections in the republic with a lot of complaints from the Mari people, who are the opposition here. It has been a lot of media publicity about the situation in Mari El after Markelov came to power, not inside the country but outside, where the media not is under restriction of Markelov. Especially organisations for Finno-Ugric peoples and Mari El associations have raised their voices about how the Mari people are being treated in the republic today. (Fin Ugor, 21.1.2005)
During Markelovs earlier term he has worked hard to silence his opponents. Under his watch journalists have frequently been beaten by people who never got caught by authorities and the republic’s independent newspapers became no longer independent. In the course of the election campaigns in the fall of 2004 for the new presidential election 19 of December, Markelov exploited his incumbency a lot. The sitting president monopolized the electronic media and published more campaign materials then law allows, and his officials also blocked both his opponents from getting their campaign items printed or from gaining access to most of the media. Despite the opposition complaints that Markeov’s actions had made the election into a farce and calls by some to boycott the vote, Markelov won with 57 % of the votes, with his closest competitor obtaining less than 20 %. The ethnic Mari had put their support behind their own candidate, Mikhail Dolgov. But after the elections were won by incumbent Leonid Markelov, the officials in the republic began a campaign of intimidation against the defiant Mari. (Helsingin Sanomat)The Russian president Vladimir Putin showed his satisfaction with the result on the same day as the vote by giving Markelov an award. The opposition has now taken actions and appealed to the courts, although Markelov has so far been able to block local courts from ruling against him. (Fin Ugor, 21.1.2005)
From all media attention that has been investigating the situation for Mari people in Mari El a list of un-investigated crimes against journalists and opposition leaders during the presidency of Leonid Markelov in Mari El has been released, telling among others:
November 2001: Aleksandr Babaykin, assistant chief editor of the opposition newspaper The Good Neighbours, is brutally killed in the centre of Yoshkar-Ola. Aleksei Bakhtin, journalist of the regional newspaper, is killed. Leonid Plotnikov, assistant chief of department of the publishing house Periodka Mari El, is killed.
March 2002: Vladimir Maltsev, chief editor of the newspaper The Good Neighbours, is attacked and caused severe bodily injures, two days later the door of his apartment is poured over with fuel and put on fire by unknown persons.
October 2004: masked bandits, armed with weapons and acting in the name of Criminal Investigations, attack the apartment of an employee of the human rights organization Citizen and Law. Journalist Vitaily Igitov is attacked, earlier in personal conversations Markelov called Igitov the man who had insulted him most.
January 2005: correspondent of the radio Liberty/radio free Europe Yelena Rogacheva is attacked.
February 4th 2005: Vladimir Kozlov, chief editor of the international Finno-Ugric newspaper, member of the Consultative Committee of the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples and leader of the all-Russian movement of Mari people, was attacked and severely beaten. (Fin Ugor)
During Markelov presidency, beatings of opposition supporters with iron pipes have become routine. The way of attacks are made with 2-3 strikes in the back of the head of the victim and also continued beating after fallen to ground, is an extremely cruel way. Only in the woman’s case fists were used instead of iron pipes. At least two journalists and one head of a printing house have been killed in this manner and threats have also been used to pressure head teachers of schools and local officials to resign. (Helsingin Sanomat)
Dozens of pro-opposition teachers, ethnic Mari, and civil servants has been sacked since December. In areas where Markelov did poorly dozens of Mari head teachers and civil servants in the regional administration lost their jobs as a result of vengeance taken by the President. During his time in office, hundreds of Mari officials have been fired on false pretences. In the areas where Markelov did poorly his administration has ordered the head teachers to fire all teachers who advised the parents of their pupils to vote for the opposition candidate, or they will face dismissal themselves. Many head teachers in Mari has succumbed to the pressure and agreed to resign. If the order is carried out in the whole republic the number of Mari civil servant to loose their jobs will rise to 1,000. As most of the teachers are Mari language speakers, this could be a massive blow to Mari culture. (Helsingin Sanomat)
A Moscow newspaper, Finansovye izvestiya, have been writing on March 16 about the television company All-Russian State television and Radio Company (VGTRK) who is reorganising and by this they also reduce programs in Mari. The reorganization has not yet been given final approval but has started anyway. Many media observers have suggested that this Putin-backed effort to re-introduce central control over the media would limit the editorial independence of the various regional and central components that make up the VGTRK. The newspaper has reported that the new corporate structure being imposed has already lead to the end of Chuvash-language broadcasting, a six-fold reduction in the amount of non-Russian language TV programming in Karelia, and cuts in Mari broadcasts following an announcement there that the staff there is to be reduced by 50 percent. This is again very bad for the Mari culture. (Mari page 21.3.2005)
5. Actions taken to stop the crimes
On the 4th of February this year, Vladimir Kozlov, chief editor of the international Finno-Ugric newspaper, member of the Consultative Committee of the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples and leader of the all-Russian movement of Mari people, was attacked and severely beaten. This is the most recent assault in a line of unprecedented hunting against leaders of political opposition in the Republic of Mari El. After this crime the Council of the Mari El Association wrote a letter of action addressed to all people of power in the Mari El republic to make the political terror of Finno-Ugric population immediately stop. (Mari page)
The Estonian Institute for Human Rights called to support Mari people on the 28th of February. Their press release is calling on Russia to stop persecuting Mari journalists and leaders of political opposition, as well as infringing on the rights of the minority people in Mari El, the Mari people. The appeal was initiated by a group of Finnish researchers who reacted to a report about the Mari peoples situation and is supported by writers, composers and politicians from USA, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Hungary, including former speaker of the Finnish parliament and former presidents of Lithuania and Estonia. In the press release they announce that the issue of violation of human rights of the Mari minority will be examined at the European Parliament. Its Commission on Ethnic Minorities and Regional Languages has included the issue of violation of human rights of Maris on their agenda at this point. (Estonian Institute for Human Rights, 28.2.2005)
In Finland there have been many people concerned about the situation in Mari El and how one group of Finno-Ugric people are being attacked there. The situation in Mari El is receiving extensive media coverage in both Finland and Estonia, which are two of EU’s own Finno-Ugric member states. In one of the appeals sent from Finland they have pointed out that in the recent months the local government in Mari El has done nothing to stop the rising tide of discrimination and attacks against the Mari people, which creates the impression that it supports or even might be behind them. Nothing has even been done to try to find out the identity on the attackers that have killed and beaten up so many people with same background. They point out that the Mari people are an important part of the Finno-Ugric world, and this summer they are scheduled to host the next world congress of Finno-Ugric studies. Consequently it is especially important now that the Russian authorities in Moscow and in Mari El do everything possible to end the abuse of the rights of Maris. (Helsingin Sanomat, 1.3.2005)
The ambassadors of Estonia, Finland and Hungary residing in Moscow has received an official invitation from the president of Mari El, Leonid Markelov, and are planning a trip to that republic. The invitation by the president of the Republic of Mari El stated that representatives of Finno-Ugric countries can come to survey the situation in Mari El at a time suitable for them. The ambassadors of Estonia, Finland and Hungary, that are independent Finno-Ugric nations in Europe, usually visit one Finno-Ugric area in Russia every year. (Mari page 8.4.2005)
In a meeting between Estonia’s population minister and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in April 7 the topic of deteriorating political and cultural situation of the Finno-Ugric people living in Russia came up and the response from the commissioner was that the topic was dealt with in his report about the human rights situation in the Russian federation, which was to be published in the end of April. (Mari page, 8.4.05)
The European Commission confirmed on 4th of March that it is concerned over the reports of the situation for the Mari people. At that time it seemed that they will anyway not act until July or December this year when the next EU-Russia human-rights working group will have their next formal sitting. (Fin Ugor) The European Parliament announced late in March that they are going to address it in April. When the Mari people learned that the European Parliament where going to discuss the violation of the Mari’s rights on April 26, which is the same day as the Mari’s traditional holiday, The Day of the Mari Hero, the leading organisations jointly published an open letter. In the letter they express their gratitude to the members of the European Parliament and to all, almost 10 000, people who have put their signature under the Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People open on internet. (Mari page, 26.4.05;2.4.05)
Both EU and UN has worked with the questions of minority rights for a long time, they have treaties and work groups for the ethnic and cultural rights and human rights and it is a very important issue today to be able to save the cultural diversity we have in the world. Non-discrimination is an important first step in protecting minorities, the whole world would be better if the people stopped discriminating each other. (Thornberry Patric, 2001)
In the case of the minority in Mari El republic, the Mari people, the discussion and media surveillance is still a hot subject and their future is still not settled. This case is just one of all the unfairness one can see in the world and it is probably quite a typical case. I hope that the European Union can be a big help in this situation and make Russia to stop this discrimination immediately, but it is still a bit too early to know the future of the Finno-Ugric Mari people in Mari-El.
Basic Human Rights Principles
Estonian Institute for Human Rights
Global 7 Network
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Thornberry, Patric (2001) “An unfinished story of minority rights” in Bíró, A.M. and Kovács, P (eds) Diversity in action, Budapest. LGI/OSI, pp.47-73
Travel Agency Virginia