Sunday, April 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Finno-Ugric Activism in Russia Seen Shifting from Politics to Culture

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – Activism among the Finno-Ugric peoples of the Russian Federation – the Maris, the Mordvins, the Udmurts and others – has evolved over the last two decades from politics to culture, from streets to the Internet, and from attachment to this cultural and linguistic community as a whole to narrower groups, according to one Finno-Ugric blogger.

            While his assessment is impressionistic rather than definitive and while it is certain to spark controversy among those who care about these three small nations and their related communities both inside Russia and beyond its borders, it represents a suggestive template for considering the evolution of these communities and perhaps others as well.

            The blogger, with the screen name of Ortem, lists what he says are the basic characteristics of Finno-Ugric activism in the 1990s, the 2000s, and the 2010s in a post picked up by the portal which is dedicated to promoting discussion about the Finno-Ugric nations (

            According to this blogger, Finno-Ugric activism had the following characteristics during the 1990s:

1.      A strong attachment to national republics and the importance of titular nationality and links with co-ethnics outside the republic and a commitment to “the institutionalization of national distinctions,” including demands that the presidents of these republics always be members of the titular nationality.

2.      Public demonstrations and protests on behalf of these goals.

3.      Close and serious attention to international Finno-Ugric congresses.

4.      “A boom in politicized national public discussion, its openness, and the participation of broad groups of the population in these discussions.”

5.      The emergence of “national proto-political parties” in the Finno-Ugric republics.

6.      “Estonian activists could visit Russia and they were not considered as spies.”

7.      “The leading cultural paradigm was ethno-futurism.”

8.      The movement’s basic tone was seriousness.

9.      Its most important venues were congresses of the individual nations.

10.  And its basic attitude was that that decade was “our last historic chance to restore our statehood and organize the life and future” of our peoples.”

During the first decade of the 21st century, the blogger suggested, the basic characteristics of activism among the members of the Finno-Ugric nations had changed and included the following:

1.      A shift away from the republic as the expression of the aspirations of the national movements reflecting a growing sense that the Finno-Ugrics remain minorities “even in their own republics” and that as a result “the republics do not belong to them.” Instead, nationalist activists focused on smaller units including districts and even individual settlements.

2.      The splitting apart of a single national movement into two camps: those loyal to the course and directives of Moscow and those who position themselves as the national opposition. And as a result of this division, the exit from active participation of many who cannot fit themselves into either group.

3.      The depoliticization of the national movements and their increasing focus on culture and a shift away from issues of the institutionalization of national culture in the republics and a focus on individual or family responsibility for cultural transmission and the general breakdown of the national society to the level of individual families.

4.      Few discussions of the need to make the study of the national language a government requirement.

5.      As Moscow focuses on foreign ties, among the Finno-Ugrics, “foreign partners are transformed into potential spies and agents of influence.”

6.      A growing awareness that many of the young organizations among these nations may be under the control of Moscow.

7.      The depoliticization of ethno-futurism into a concern with “glamour.”

8.      Increasing suspiciousness and care in expressing opinions.

9.      The chief venue is no longer the congress but the concert hall.

10.  And there is a growing sense that the Finno-Ugrics are now and will remain part of Russia.

And at present, in the decade of the 2010s, the blogger conclude, activism in these Finno-Ugric nations has changed again and now displays the following characteristics:

1.      The Internet increasingly dominates the movements with most of national life now taking place online rather than in the streets.

2.       “A sense of the awakening of the Finno-Ugrics” among those who do take part in online discussions.

3.      A sharp decline in the extent of initiatives: Putting up banners or stickers “is considered the height of achievement.”

4.      An increasing split between what is taking place online and offline

5.      Ever more “hints” of the need to cooperate with other small peoples of the Russian Federation.

6.      A rise of rhetoric stressing the equality of the rights of all peoples within and among the republics.

7.      The emergence of a kind of lazy activism in which people wear shirts with slogans but never take part in any public activity beyond that.

8.      A focus on games and amusements rather than on political issues.

9.      The typical venue is now the discotheque or a social network like VKontakte.

10.  And a focus on love of culture rather than anything else.

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