Wednesday, March 11, 2020

As Mordvins Approach Majority Status in Their Republic, Moscow and Saransk Divided on Response

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 6 --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.

            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 (бюджетников-мордовии-предупредили-о/).

            The Mordvins are roughly subdivided between the dominant Moksha who form two-thirds of the nation and the Erzya, who form about one third; but because the Moksha are in control of most institutions, the language imbalance in favor of the Moksha against the Erzya is far larger, perhaps ten to one.

            As long as the Mordvins as a whole were a distinct minority, Moscow and Saransk were united in seeking to eliminate these sub-ethnic divisions. But now the Mordvins as a whole have increased from 31 percent in 2002 to 40 percent in 2010 and may top 50 percent this year, while the share of ethnic Russians, long about 60 percent, may become a minority.

            Consequently, Moscow now appears to favor a divide-and-rule game while Saransk sees national unity as in its interests ( And because the minority Erzyra see this split, they are becoming more active (

            Last fall, the Erzya began a campaign to have the authorities pen an Erzya-language gymnasium. Now, the republic education ministry has turned them down and in the process has inflamed Erzya feelings – and possibly Moksha ones as well (чиновники-объяснили-эрзянам-что-гимн/ and

            That is because the ministry gave precise details on just how little Erzya is being used and then suggested that gymnasiums and universities are only for Russian culture and not for Mordvin.  Accrding t the ministry, there are only 28 schools in the republic where Erzya is studied two to three hours a week and only 93 more where it is studied one to two hours. 

            Not only is that less than the number of hours Mordvin students spend studying English, activists say; it means that in the majority of schools, there is no instruction in Erzya at all.

            At the same time, the letter was dismissive of Mordvin as a whole. Igan Minka, an Erzya activist says that “we were politely told that gymnasiums and universities are for Russian culture, and for Erzya there are study circles and the reginal component of ‘We live in Mrdvinia.’”  He says his group plans to appeal to Moscow; and if that doesn’t work, it will see support from the international community.

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