[lg policy] Russia: Erzyas Seek Republic Status

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 4 21:12:38 UTC 2009

« Internet a Last Line of Defense for Non-Russian Rights, Tatar Activist Says

Erzyas Seek Republic Status
By MariUver

Furious at what they see as threats to their language and culture, the
Erzyas, a 300,000 plus-strong Finno-Ugric linguistic community that
Moscow has long treated as part of the Mordvin nation, are demanding
that Moscow agree to establish a separate and distinct Erzyan
Autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation

The Congress of the Erzya People (“Erzyan’ Inekuzho”) ten days ago
declared that discrimination against their nation has become so severe
and so violates the norms of international law and the Russian
Constitution that it had no choice but to seek its own autonomous
republic. The congress, which was established by the Erzya national
movement in 2006, specifically complained about “the lack of a
systematic program of instruction of children in their native language
… and the absence of cultural institutions who conduct their
activities in the Erzya language in areas where the Erzyan people live
in compact settlements.”

(For a report about the meeting, see
www.sobkorr.ru/news/4A4B6893F0433.html. For the text of the
resolutions of the congress, see
and www.erzan.ru/news/obshhaja-rezoljucija-3-go-kongressa-jerzjanskogo-naroda.)
This new radicalization in a group whose leaders over the last 20
years have sought to achieve its recognition as a separate and
distinct nation was prompted, the congress said, the announcement last
month by some Mordvin officials that they would seek to promote a
single Mordvin language in the coming years.

Indeed, the Erzyans declared, if they are not given that kind of
support, they will disappear completely over the next generation,
absorbed by the Moksha in some cases or by the ethnic Russians in
others, neither outcome of which corresponds to the promises Moscow
has made in the Russian Constitution or in its accession to a large
number of international accords. Because the Moksha dialect which most
Mordvin leaders speak is very different from Erzyan, many Erzyan
speakers view that as a threat to their survival as a distinctive
community, whose members live both in Mordvinia but also in Chuvashia,
Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan and in neighboring Russian regions

Such an effort, of course, calls into question the current
administrative-territorial division of the Russian Federation and
flies in the face of efforts by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to
promote the amalgamation of smaller non-Russian federation subjects
with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones. And as such, the
Erzyan movement is unlikely to achieve its goals anytime soon. But
that does not mean that its declarations are not having an important
demonstration effect. The Mariuver.wordpress.com portal, in reporting
this congress, invited its visitors to post their comments

Among those who did was one who declared that all the Russian
government’s promises to minorities notwithstanding, “it is well=known
to every thinking person in Russia and not only in Russia that the
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES” [stress in the original] of the country.

“Everyone,” she wrote, citing the Erzyan declaration, “from
Zhirinovsky to Putin repeats this. And only the fear of major
conflicts forces [the center] to put up with the autonomous policy of
Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Chechnya.” And only those people “proud”
enough to resist, as some of the smaller peoples of the North Caucasus
have proved to be, will survive. And her post found support from
another. Unless the Erzyan demonstrate the same courage, “Anna” said,
“our generation may be offered a unique opportunity: to see the
clinical death of a major European people,” something for which she
wrote the non-Russians can only say “’Thank you’” to the Muscovites.

Meanwhile, another small Finno-Ugric group, the Wepsy who mostly live
in Leningrad Oblast appealed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to
protect them against the depredations of the regional government which
has closed their schools and thus threatened the survival of their
community (www.regnum.ru/news/1181055.html).In their appeal, the Wepsy
called Medvedev’s attention to the fact that he had said in April of
this year that the Russian government “is doing everything necessary
for the preservation of the traditional way of life of the small
indigenous people and for the solution” of the problems they face.

But “unfortunately,” the appeal says, local officials are routinely
ignoring this promise and undercutting the chances for these
communities to flourish or even to survive. Now, the Wepsy say, they
are threatened with extinction because of the closure of
native-language schools, a step that will lead to the death of the
villages in which their community exists. And this community, which
numbers only a few thousand in the region and only 8,000 in the
Russian Federation as a whole, “respectfully” asked Medvedev to
“intervene” in this situation and “help the local population defend
their rights and lawful interests which are guaranteed by legislation
concerning the rights of numerically small indigenous peoples.”

Paul Goble


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