May 31, 2005

Mari: Russia Denies Allegations of Oppression of Mari People

According to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation, the allegations of the members of the European Parliament that Russia is violating the rights of the Finno-Ugric Mari people, are not based on any truthful information
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Russia has issued its answer to the European Union resolution criticising the country for violating the rights of the Finno-Ugric Mari people. According to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation, the allegations of the members of the European Parliament are not based on any truthful information.

The European Parliament passed a strongly-worded resolution in mid-May, charging Russia with repeated violations of the rights of the indigenous Mari people, a Finno-Ugric nation living in the Volga region.

While journalists have been repeatedly beaten and persecuted in the area, the perpetrators of the violence have not been brought to justice, according to the European Parliament. Further oppressive measures taken against the Mari minority include the lack of education in the Mari language, and the fact that opposition publications must be printed outside of the Republic.

Oppressive measures began escalating last December when Maris openly opposed the pro-Kremlin Presidential candidate Leonid Markelov, a supporter of the hard-line nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Since Markelov won, Mari officials have been suffering threats, oppression and illegal dismissals in the areas where the opposition candidate collected more votes than the incumbent President.

Russia claims that the authorities of the Mari Republic practice a balanced national policy aiming at the development of the Mari culture, with an attempt to cooperate even with other national minorities.

The Foreign Ministry argues that statistics do not show any signs of a wave of crimes that would focus on the Mari people. On the contrary, the share of indigenous Maris as crime victims is much smaller than their proportion among the people of the Republic.

On its website, the Russian Foreign Ministry states: "The upsurge of an unfounded political campaign surrounding the alleged human rights violations of the Mari Republic is fruitless, and it is not what the national minority of Maris really needs. In particular, it does not promote the development of relations between Russia and the European Union".

Russia's Foreign Ministry believes that the real purpose of the resolution from the European Union is to turn the world's attention away from the human rights situation facing the Russian-speaking minority living in the Baltic states.

Russia also claims that the fact that only 63 out of 732 members of the European Parliament were present when the voting took place is testimony to the small political weight the issue enjoys within the EU. The debate on the resolution took place on the afternoon of the last day of the Parliament's plenary week, when most of the MEPs had already gone home.

Russia's Foreign Ministry also wishes to draw the attention of those Finns and Estonians who signed the resolution to the fact that in the Republic of Mari, the Mari language enjoys an equal status with the Russian language. "This fact has not only been confirmed in the Constitution but also put into practice".

Source: Helsingin Sanomat