European Parliament appeals on behalf of indigenous Mari people in Russia
Finno-Ugric MEPs join forces in campaigning for Mari rights, while Commission expresses ignorance of persecution
The European Parliament has voiced concerns over the persecution of a minority group currently taking place in Russia, the target of which is the Mari people, the ethnic cousins of the Finns and the Hungarians.
The European Parliament plans to address the situation next month with the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament.
A scheme also exists for drawing up a quick resolution with regard to the indigenous people of the Mari Republic, and a plan of action for improving the living conditions of the Finno-Ugric nations.
Last year, the indigenous Maris were largely opposed to the re-election of President Leonid Markelov, who enjoyed support from the Kremlin. Markelov, himself a supporter of hard-line nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, won the election, although the results - according to the indigenous Mari population - did not bear close scrutiny.
Since the election, the indigenous Maris who were against Markelov have been tyrannised through illegal dismissals and violent beatings. Some of the violence has resulted in deaths, but apparently no one has been convicted of the crimes.
In an interview published in The Baltic Times, Markelov's representative Sergei Loskutov has denied allegations of oppression of the Maris.
In the European Parliament, the other Finno-Ugric nations - the Finns, the Estonians, and the Hungarians - have raised the issue of the treatment of the Mari people by Moscow.
At the end of March, a meeting is scheduled for the Finno-Ugric MEPs to think of ways how to help the Maris.
At the European Commission, on the other hand, neither the office of Javier Solana, High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, nor the communications unit of the rotating Presidency Luxembourg, knew anything very much about how the Mari people were treated in Russia.
"We have no knowledge of any such things", Solana's office commented while referring on a general level to the human rights negotiations between Russia and the EU.
Treatment of the minority groups was the topic of the first human rights meeting between Russia and the EU at the beginning of March. Apparently the Mari issue, however, was not singled out during the course of the meeting.
After the meeting, Commission representative Emma Udwin stated that the topic will be brought up in future meetings with the Russians.
"I cannot say where, when, or by whom the issue will be raised, but rest assured we will not forget concerns that we have already expressed", Udwin said, according to Radio Free Europe.
The next human rights conference between Russia and the EU is scheduled for the latter part of the year.
Next week the EU foreign ministers will gather to outline the May summit meeting between Russia and the EU, but at least for now the situation of the indigenous Mari people has not made it onto the meeting agenda.
Finnish MEP Paavo Väyrynen feels the issue should definitely be dealt with at the meeting with the Russians, as the human rights violations against the Maris in particular have been severe.
For his part, MEP Henrik Lax expressed the hope that the Mari situation would raise further discussions of human rights in general.
"The EU has to have clear views on subjects that Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, is committed to", Lax said.
"Furthermore, it is our own national leaders' responsibility to bring this up as well."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Election result brings wave of political reprisals against indigenous intelligentsia of Mari Republic (8.3.2005)
In Mari political dissidents are beaten with iron pipes (8.3.2005)
Mari people complain of continued persecution by Russian officials (1.3.2005)