Helsinki Federation concerned about the rights of the Mari people
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Moscow Helsinki Group announced in a report made public on Wednesday, that there are major flaws in the protection of the rights of the Finno-Ugric Mari people in the Russian Mari Republic.
According to the groups, the most disturbing facts are the authorities' reluctance to admit the problem and the harrassment of Mari activists.
The Republic of Mari El is situated about 860 kilometres east of Moscow. The ethnic Mari are a minority of 40 percent of the republic's 728 000 inhabitants.
"The Mari minority's political influence has been greatly reduced. The national leaders of the Mari are the target of violence and intimidation because of their political aims, and most of the Mari people have no political influence," writes Aaron Rhodes the head of the Helsinki Federation, in the report.
Those who oppose the official politics have been the target of increasing harassment during the past few years.
Members of the Mari national movement have been labelled as nationalists whose goal is to overthrow the current political system. Public media is under strict control, and almost all independent newspapers have been closed down, according to the report.
President Leonid Markelov, who was re-elected in 2004, is the political leader of the Republic of Mari El. According to the report, Markelov "has not only failed in representing the interests of the Mari people, but has also indirectly supported the eradication of the Mari people's special status in the Republic of Mari El".
The Mari language is an official language in the Republic of Mari El along with Russian. Although officials are bound by law to protect it, use of the language has constantly decreased in the republic. Officials are not required to know the language, so business can seldom be conducted in Mari.
Teaching in Mari is offered only in elementary school. A number of small Mari schools have been closed down.
The report suggests that open public debate should take place on how to arrange teaching in Mari. Without a language, the minority will quickly wither away.
The number of Mari television shows has been reduced. Only a few books a year are published in Mari.
Poverty is also a problem for the Mari people.
For example, radio programmes in Mari are broadcast for several hours every day, but few can afford the shortwave radios needed to listen to them.
Previously in HS International Edition:
COMMENTARY: The Economist predicts doom for Russia´s Finno-Ugrics (17.1.2006)
Mari people face more oppression in Russia (4.10.2005)
Finno-Ugric youth leader beaten in Russia’s Mari Republic (30.8.2005)
European Parliament raps Russia for treatment of Mari people (13.5.2005)
Election result brings wave of political reprisals against indigenous intelligentsia of Mari Republic (8.3.2005)
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights: Summary of the IHF Report on the Mari Minority of the Republic of Mari El (Russian Federation)