Jun 02, 2005

Mari Musicians Beaten by Russian Skinheads

A group of 30 Russian skinheads beat up fifteen musicians and leading cultural figures leaving a concert of Mari music in republics capital city of Yoshkar-Ola, said Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam
“A group of 30 Russian skinheads beat up fifteen musicians and leading cultural figures leaving a concert of Mari music in republic’s capital city of Yoshkar-Ola,” said Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam. “The Russian skinheads said they did not like songs performed in the Mari language, started offending the artists and all of them, including women, were beaten unmercifully,” continued Kelam. He alleges the attackers were instigated by local administration and were promised both immunity and rewards for doing so.

"The Finno-Ugric Mari people are currently suffering severe discrimination," said Liberal MEP István Szent-Iványi. Of around 750,000 Mari some 45 percent live in what was once an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation called Mari El, to the south east of Moscow. A high percentage of Mari also live in adjoining regions. "Recently, attacks, beatings and killings have been reported. The targets are journalists and opposition leaders such as Yelena Rogacheva and Vladimir Kozlov,” explained Szent-Iványi. “What is more disgusting is that the regional government, run by a Moscow-born politician, is inactive and completely indifferent to these serious violations of human rights.”

On 12 May, the European Parliament adopted a joint resolution on the breaches of human rights and democracy in the Mari Republic (Mari El) of the Russian Federation. Co-signed by Kelam, with Hungarian MEP György Schöpflin and German Bernd Posselt, the resolution was denounced by Mari Republic authorities. “Less than 72 hours after the latest beatings, the President of the Republic, Leonid Markelov arranged a declaration by local officials against the Maris and their foreign supporters,” said Kelam.

In its resolution, the European Parliament calls on Russian local and federal authorities "to respect their obligations under international law, and to take adequate steps to facilitate the practical implementation of the provisions of the State Constitution and other legislation relating to the maintenance and development of minority languages and cultures".

Speaking a variant in the Finno-Ugric family of languages, Volga-Finnic, Mari have received support from Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian organizations. In 1992, a bilateral treaty between Finland and Russia was signed guaranteeing support for " ... the Finnish and Finno-Ugric people and their heritage in Russia and likewise those of Russian origin and their heritage in Finland. They will protect their respective languages, culture and historical monuments."

During presidential elections at the end of 2004, Mari fielded their own candidate, Mikhail Dolgovya, but lost to incumbent regional president Leonid Markelov. Current abuse, after Mari support for opposition candidate Dolgovya during the presidential elections of December 2004, includes the beating of Yelena Rogacheva, a Radio Free Europe journalist, and the editor-in-chief of Finno-Ugric newspaper Kudo+Kodu, Vladimir Kozlov. During Markelov's period in power at least two journalists and a head of publishing house have been killed.

Source: Euro-reporters