Finno-Ugric minorities face becoming museum exhibits as Russia clamps down on organizations (2)

The Rjurik Lonin Museum of Veps Ethnography in Sholtozero, Republic of Karelia, Russia. The Vepsians, or Veps, are a Baltic Finnic tribe and close relatives to Estonians, who live in the area between Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and Lake Beloye. According to 2002 census, there are only 8,240 Veps in Russia (down from over 25,000 in 1897). The younger generation no longer speaks the Veps language. (Ohikulkija/Wikimedia Commons)
10/19/2015 1:55 PM
Category: International

Last week – and Saturday in particular – were dedicated to the Finno-Ugric cause in Estonia. The support of Estonia, Finland and Hungary to their kindred peoples is becoming increasingly more important, as the rights and conditions of Finno-Ugric minorities in Russia deteriorate, said delegates at the Finno-Ugrian Days conference.

Several Finno-Ugric organizations in Russia have ceased their activity as the central government added them to the list of "foreign agents", ETV's news program "Aktuaalne Kaamera" reported.

In 2012, Russia introduced a law that labels all non-governmental and non-profit organizations that receive funding from abroad "foreign agents", meaning that they are subjected to vigorous state control and extensive audits. In addition, they have to start their every publication and statement with a disclosure that it is being given by a "foreign agent".

"It was discussed at the conference how the state is suspicious of all organizations that engage in preserving or promoting their native language or cultural heritage. Officials try to control their activities and this is not normal by any standard," said Jaak Prozec, an adviser to NPO FennoUgria, which organizes the Finno-Ugric Days in Estonia.

In just eight years, the number of native speakers of any Finno-Ugric language in Russia has dropped from two million to one and a half million.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves too drew attention to this issue in his message to Sauli Niinistö and János Áder, presidents of Finland and Hungary respectively. "I'm convinced that we – the Finno-Ugric peoples who do have their own nation states – have the responsibility to support our smaller cousins, to help them preserve their traditions and proactively modernize their way of life in a way that their languages and cultures survive in the 21st century, beyond the recreational museum-villages," Ilves said. "Together we can offer hope and cooperation opportunities to all Finno-Ugric peoples," he added.

The Finno-Ugrian Days, a week-long festival in Estonia, was first established in 1931. Interrupted during the Soviet era, the tradition was revived in 1988. Since 2011, the third Saturday of October of each year is celebrated as the Pan-Finno-Ugric Day in Estonia.

M. Oll

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