Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Two Kinds of Ethnic Conflict Intensify in Mordvinia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Ethnic conflicts in most non-Russian republics typically refer to disputes between members of the titular the titular nationality and its language, on the one hand, and local Russians or Russian speakers and Moscow, on the other. But there is another kind, one between subgroups of the titular nationality, that in some places may rival the first in importance.

            Mordvinia, a Finno-Ugric republic of some 800,000 people in the Middle Volga, currently features examples of both kinds, a situation in which those of one may very much affect the other, according to a report by the Free Ideal Ural movement (idel-ural.org/archives/бюджетников-мордовии-предупредили-о/).

            Both somewhat unexpectedly came to a head last week at the Seventh Inter-Regional Social Organization of the Mordvin (Moksha and Erzyan) People. As has become traditional, the representatives of these peoples and the powers began by being upbeat and supportive of each other.  But that didn’t last.

            Many from Mordvins and its two subgroups arrived outraged by two recent developments directed they felt against both of them: First, journals in these languages have been forced to suspend operation because the government is no longer providing the funding it did, yet another example of Moscow’s “optimization” when it comes to non-Russian languages.

            And second, the republic’s teachers, including those who teach these two distinctive languages, were not paid as scheduled this past month; and many have protested against the growing wage arrears both to Saransk and to Moscow (idel-ural.org/archives/опять-денег-нет-в-мордовии-перестали-в/ and idel-ural.org/archives/в-мордовии-учителя-сообщают-о-задержк/).
            The republic leader promised that both these problems would be resolved. But a second problem, reflecting a very different kind of ethnic issue, is one that the republic leadership has promoted (along with Moscow). That is the conflict between two subgroups of the Mordvins, the majority Moksha and the minority Erzya (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/ethnic-divisions-among-those-moscow.html).

Erzya leaders have complained for more than a decade that Mordvin conferences which purport to represent them and the Moksha end by promoting only the latter, a position that has gained support among rights activists and organizations in Europe, Erzya concerns on this point were only exacerbated by this meeting.

They were very much disturbed by the republic head’s suggestion that  “artificially cultivated ethnic nationalism brings harm” and that such actions bear an exclusively political character,” remarks the Erzya see as dismissing them as a separate nation and thus a threat to their future existence.

            And unlike the Moksha participants, the Erzya ones were not prepared to be docile in their relations with the powers that be.  During the Mordvin congress, Kshumantsyan Pirgud, who was the Erzya traditional religion’s chief priest from 1999 to 2019, picketed the sessions with a sign declaring “We respect the memory of A. Razin,” the Udmurt scholar who committed suicide to call attention to the passing of his language and hence of his people.

            Moscow may be pleased to have an ethnic division among the Mordvins it can play on, and Mordvin republic leaders may view Pirgud’s action as an indication that the Erzya have already lost.  But those who have been driven into a corner as the Erzya feel they have been are perhaps the most dangerous: they have nothing to lose.

            Consequently, this second kind of ethnic conflict in Mordvinia (and elsewhere), one that has been provoked by Moscow and republic policies may prove even more difficult for the authorities at either level to deal with, even though up to now, such conflicts rarely have received much attention.

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