Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Mari Association in Russian Capital Marks Tenth Anniversary

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – The Association of Maris in Moscow, a group created to preserve ethnic identity among that Finno-Ugric community, promote ties between the Mari diaspora and the Republic of Mari El, and promote media and scholarly attention to their ethno-national community, has just marked its 10th anniversary.

            The Mariuver portal this week provides a chronology of 45 events that the association has either sponsored or taken part of, providing an unusual group into one of the many ethnic and regional “zemlyachestvas” in the Russian capital  who are often ignored as an activity and a source (mariuver.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/zemljach-10/).

            As the chronology notes, the Mari Association was established by 55 people living in Moscow and Moscow oblast who were either former residents of Mari El or members of the Mari and other Finno-Ugric peoples at a meeting in the Hungarian Cultural Center in the Russian capital.

            The Maris took the lead, the chronology suggests, in organizing links with ethno-cultural groups of Mordvins, Udmurts, Karelians, Komis, and Ingermanlanders as well as with activists, officials and scholars in the three Finno-Ugric countries, Estonia, Finland, and Hungary as well as with the Russian media and scholarly community.

            One Russian scholar who has focused on groups like the Mari, Yu. Yerofeyev, wrote a book which former Russian nationalities minister V.A. Mikhailov said provides important insights on Russian federalism and ethnic relations by focusing on “the development of national-cultural autonomies and zemlyachestvas.”

            Unfotunately, in the era of Vladimir Putin, the group has been less successful in working with Russian officials.  The presidential plenipotentiary for the Middle Volga promised to carry the Mari Association’s critical ideas back to Mari El but “in practice,” he did nothing to the enormous disappointment of Moscow’s Maris.

            But if the Mari Association has not had great influence with officials, it has played an increasingly important role, the chronology suggests, in preparing and placing articles in the Russian media, print and electronic, and in providing information about the Finno-Ugric nationalities more generally.

            “For the years of its existence” and despite all the difficulties related to funding and housing, “the zemlyachestvo [of the Maris] has become quite widely known in Moscow, the Republic of Mari El, Bashkortostan and in other Russian regions,” its officers say, adding that “they know us in Estonia, Hungary and Finland.”  

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