Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Census Results Spark Fears among Maris, Calls for Political Action

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – The recent release of nationality data from the 2010 Russian Federation census is prompting the members of ever more groups to reflect on the situation they now find themselves in and to ask what they should do to improve their lot and in some cases to ensure the survival of their people.

            A leader of the small Finno-Ugric Mari nation is the latest to do so. Yury Yerofeyev, head of Moscow’s Mari community, pointedly asks whether the situation today proves that Mikhail Kandaratsky was write a century ago when he wrote that “sad is the past of the Cheremis [Mari} people, said is its present and still sadder is its future” (finugor.ru/node/22596).

            Yerofeyev says that the new census results mean that one cannot but agree with the Kazan professor.given what has happened to the Mari, a group oppressed by tsarist autocracy and one which “for centuries has had imposed on its consciousness submissiveness and a sense of being a second class people and kept from the administration of its own fate.”

            Between the 2002 and 2010 Russian censuses, the Mari people declined in number by 57,000 people, “falling back to the level they were at in 1965.” “And in comparison with the demographic boom which came during the last years of Soviet power, the Maris became almost 100,000 (15 percent) fewer than they were in 1989.”

            “What is this?” Yerofeyev asks: “Payment for ‘the happiness of living in a capitalist paradise’ or the beginning point of the disappearance of the Cheremis ethnos?” Like other Maris, he wants to know how this happened, “was it by the mortality of people, assimilation with other peoples, the mass exodus of Maris to find work … or a criminally distorted census?”

            The last factor undoubtedly has played a role, he suggests, especially because Moscow has an interest in “concealing the true indicators connected with the decline of the share of the ethnic Russian ethnos” and fears that any reports about which could undermine “social stability” especially in the run-up to the Duma and presidential elections.

            “It is clear to all,” given the rising tide of popular distrust for the powers that be, he writes, “that the delays with the release of summary data of the census” were the result of political calculations. Thus, “in this sense, the census of 2010 had not so much a social-economic goal” as such enumerations are supposed to have “as a political one.”

            In order to correct the situation, Yerofeyev continues, an Internet site should appear “in the nearest future the entire set of statistics about the sizes of each region where there are registered members of our community” and that this should be done by Mari activists rather than Russian officials.

            That need in turn raises the issue of the reliability of the Mari social organization Mary Mer Kanash, a group that remains unregistered and whose leaders have sought  “to privatize” the Mari people into their own hands by “deceptive means,” as well as Moscow-imposed officials like the current head of Mari El.

            What is needed now is the convention of a genuine popular assembly of Maris from all across the Russian Federation, a group that “undoubtedly will be interested in the level of representation of Maris and other residents populating Mari El in the organs of the federal legislative branch, including the State Duma and the Federation Council.”

            United Russia and its officials in Mari El, Yerofeyev says, have eliminated all representation of the Mari nation in these assemblies, something that “never was in the case in Soviet times or even in the years of Yeltsin’s rule” and something that leaves the nation feeling something less than complete.”

            “Such a short-sighted, hypocritical policy of recent times serves as a reminder after a century about the past rightless position of the Mari people,” the Moscow community leader writes. “The time has come,” he says,” to say “‘No’ to all who at the federal and regional levels allow themselves to irresponsibly declare Maris” who speak up “’nationalists.’”

            And there are some hopeful signs that the Maris, despite their diminished numbers, are beginning to wake up to their possible fate and take political action. Only 52 percent of them voted for United Russia in the Duma elections, “a real indicator of the declining level of trust of residents of the republic and above all of the urban population to local bureaucrats.”

            This trend, Yerofeyev concludes, “will continue in the March 4 vote for president” in large part because “circumstances in the country are such that the main opponent to the criminal powers that be already are not the proletariat of the Marxist era but business which is in an objective contradiction with the existing system of ineffective economics and bureaucracy.”

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