Staunton, May 31 – When people speak of the iron curtain, they usually have in their minds something like the Berlin Wall, but the Iron Curtain consisted of more than just barbed wire and concrete blocks along a border guarded by Soviet border troops. It included a variety of institutions designed to keep peoples on the two sides separate.
Now, something similar is taking place with Moscow insisting on erecting barriers between members of related ethnic groups inside and outside the Russian Federation. It first did this with Turkic peoples in 2015 when the government demanded Turkic nations within Russia break ties with TURKSOY.
Now, it has extended this isolationist stance to the Finno-Ugric nations, not only preventing them from taking part in an upcoming world congress of peoples of this cultural-linguistic group set to take place in Estonia June 16-18 but scheduling an alternative one this week which will include only “Russian” Finno-Ugric representatives.
Moscow has what it sees as compelling reasons to move in this direction, Prague-based commentator Vadim Sidorov says. It wants to hide the russification of Finno-Ugrics inside Russia that it has been promoting and limit complaints from these groups to European structures (trtrussian.com/mnenie/novyj-zheleznyj-zanaves-dlya-finno-ugrov-rossii-5614144).
At the time of the 1989 census, there were 3.2 million speakers of Finno-Ugric languages in the RSFSR. In 2002, their number had declined to 2.7 million, and in 2010 to 2.3 million. The 2020 census which will in fact take place later this year is expected to show a further and even accelerating decline.
This is not just a natural process as Moscow routinely insists but one that the Kremlin has actively promoted. Two years ago, Vladimir Putin when asked about the status of one Finno-Ugric nation, the Vod, acknowledged that “they had been assimilating, but I am sure,” he added, “that they will not disappear completely.”
According to Sidorov, “this is the status of the Finno-Ugric peoples” in Russia today, “between ‘assimilated’ and ‘not disappearing completely.’” Members of these groups have protested and used ties with the three Finno-Ugric nations which are independent to bring their complaints to European institutions.
Moscow wants both to hide what is going on and to end the ability of Estonia, Finland and Hungary to help the Finno-Ugric nations within the Russian Federation resist. It has used its pocket organization, the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation, to that end.
In April, the group declared that it wouldn’t take part in the World Finno-Ugric Congress in Estonia because that group had adopted an ever more anti-Moscow position by its support of the Finno-Ugrics within the Russian Federation. And its statement suggested the Russian group won’t take part in such meetings in the future.
Activists among the Finno-Ugric nations inside Russia say that in this way, Moscow wants “to deprive the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia of ‘an international arena for talking about their problems and finding support among European partners.” That is what Putin’s new iron curtain really looks like to them, Sidorov suggests.