The Finno-Ugric Mari people of the Russian Republic of Mari have complained of a wave of political oppression at the hands of nationalist Russians.
The attacks were prompted by the Presidential elections in December, in which the ethnic Mari put their support behind their own candidate, Mikhail Dolgovia. When the elections were won by incumbent Leonid Markelov, officials in the republic began a campaign of intimidation against the defiant Mari.
During the Markelov presidency, beatings of opposition supporters with iron pipes have become routine.
At least two journalists and one head of a printing house have been killed in this manner. One male journalist has been beaten to within an inch of his life, and a female journalist was beaten with fists.
Threats have also been used to pressure head teachers of schools and local officials to resign. The dismissal of about 1,000 Mari officials is seen as a blow to indigenous culture.
On February 22nd an appeal was published on the letters to the editor page of Helsingin Sanomat on behalf of the democratic rights of the Mari. Its signatories included Finland's former Speaker of Parliament Riitta Uosukainen and Estonian President Lennart Meri.
An extensive report on the situation of the Mari people will appear as one of our weekly features next week (Tuesday 8.3.).