To: V. A. Kechkin, Chairman of the State Assembly of the Republic
N. I. Merkushkin, Head of the Republic of Mordovia
Within the past three decades the global view on international and inter-ethnic relations has changed radically. Several internationally recognised legal standards have been adopted by the UN and its structural subdivisions, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union, through the Helsinki Agreements, etc., in regard of indigenous peoples and small tribal nations. Many states have adopted laws that to secure their rights and freedoms. For example, in the 1960s the so-called Program of Affirmative Action was launched in the USA to protect the rights of ethnic minorities. In 1993 the Act On the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities was adopted in Hungary. Similar legislative acts have been passed in many other multinational states worldwide.
In the Russian Federation, foundation is being laid for factual equality of individuals belonging to various ethnic communities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. Namely, it is the Federal Law On National Cultural Autonomy. It is aimed at ensuring the right of representatives of nationalities and ethnic groups to cultural autonomy as one of the forms of self-determination and self-organisation. The same course is followed in the earlier adopted Law On National Languages of RSFSR (1991), the Foundations of Legislation of Russian Federation Concerning Culture (1992), the Education Law (1992), and other acts.
Much is being done in this respect in the Finno-Ugric regions of Russia. Their characteristic feature is that the indigenous peoples of Finno-Ugric republics have found themselves in the position of national minorities in their own territories, except in the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Region for the Permian-Komi Autonomous Region. Thus, according to the 1989 census, the Komis make up 23,3% of the population of the Komi Republic, the Karelians 10% in Karelia, 32,5% the Erzyas and the Mokshas in Mordovia, etc.
In the Komi Republic, legislative foundation has been laid for realisation of globally accepted principles concerning the rights of indigenous peoples. The Constitution of the Komi Republic proclaimed the priority of these principles. It includes a special article on overall support for development of the Komi nation in conformity with international norms concerning indigenous peoples.
The Constitution of the Republic affirmed the right of the Committee for Revival of the Komi People for legislative initiative and fixed the status of the Komi Peoples Congress.
Today, the Government has the effectively functioning Ministry of Nationalities headed by a professionally qualified Minister, Mr. A. K. Konyukhov, Cand. Hist. (himself an ethnic Komi). Financing of nationalities policies has been brought out as a separate item in the republican budget (4,5 billion roubles) since 1996. The Law On Cultural Autonomy has been adopted and is being carried out in the republic. It was also the first among the Finno-Ugric republics of Russia to adopt the Language Law.
The positive experience of the Komi Republic has encouraged other republics to act more effectively in the ethnic sphere. Thus, in Karelia a comprehensive body has been established at the Legislative Assembly as the Committee on Issues of Self-Government and Nationalities Policies (chaired by Z. Strogalshchikova, Cand. Hist., herself a Vepsian). Six per cent of the republic's budget is allocated for culture of the local people. Three Karelian national districts and a Vepsian volost (region) with the administrative centre in the village of Sheltozero have been formed. Efforts are made for training native personnel for educational and cultural establishments.
Mordovia has been, and still is, lagging behind in the solution of ethnic problems.
The constitutional rights and interests of the indigenous population in the sphere of culture, native language and education are not respected in the republic. Naturally, within such a short time it is impossible to improve the whole situation in the sphere of national culture and education, which for decades had been ruined for the sake of imperialist ideas of consolidation, integration and amalgamation. We realise that it takes years to normalise the situation.
But what do we see in reality? The legislative and executive powers are not giving precedence and priority to ethnic issues. Indeed, they do not even give consideration to these issues. It is demonstrated by the fact that within all the years of reformation the powers that be have adopted not a single legislative act in the sphere of ethnic and nationalities relations. For several years the bills on language, on culture, on the status of ethnic villages, etc. have been torpedoed. As we can see from this list, the Committee on Culture, Education, Science, International Relations and Youth Issues at the State Assembly views ethnic policy as a kind of fifth wheel under the cart of the State Assembly. During the whole of its existence the representative body of Mordovian Government has not given consideration to a single legislative act on ethnic issues. The leadership of the above-mentioned Committee is probably still holding to the tenet that there are no ethnic problems in the Republic of Mordovia.
The Committee on Nationalities Policy at the Government of the Republic of Mordovia has been made up by no means according to the criteria of qualification and competence. For the whole time of its functioning it has never displayed any initiative in its field, except for a contract with the Scientific Research Institute of Regional Studies, which will be discussed below. It is a shame that they have not taken advantage of the visits of governmental delegations of Mordovia to other Finno-Ugric regions of Russia: to Udmurtia, Khanty-Mansiysk, Komi, etc. In its work the Committee trails along at the back of the Executive Committee of the Council of the Congress of Mordovian (Erzya and Moksha) Peoples, whereas often hindering the latters work.
Authorised by the Committee naturally, with the Governments consent the Institute of Regional Studies worked out The Programme of National Development And Inter-Ethnic Collaboration Between the Peoples of the Republic of Mordovia for the Period Until 2000. We would like to request you, honoured leaders of our republic, to examine the paper, even if briefly, and penetrate into the essence of the proposed variant of national development. Realisation of the Programme would mean the most humiliating chauvinist way of russification of the Moksha and Erzya population. Such things can be accepted only in Mordovia! Instead of stopping the process of extinction of the Erzyas and Mokshas, the Programme to accelerate their assimilation is adopted. Just take a look which is the nation for whose development the programme has been made up. There is no limit to our indignation at the fact that as far as violations of human rights are concerned, the Republic of Mordovia overshadows the rest of Russia. This opinion has been expressed by the influential human rights organisation, Amnesty International. In its annual report, published recently in London, the organisation devoted a special chapter to the Republic of Mordovia. The reality would look even grimmer if violations of the basic rights of the indigenous population were added to the report.
The Erzya and Moksha population in their own republic is diminishing, their flight from their historical homeland is continuing. These are the most convincing proofs of the anti-ethnic and anti-human tendencies in the policy of the present governmental bodies in the Republic of Mordovia. If the living conditions are not secured to the indigenous peoples of the Republic of Mordovia, the republic will have no hope for the future only ruins will remain of the present statehood. As we can see from historical experience, no economic or political reforms can be accomplished without fundamental changes in the sphere of ethnic relations. The system of political and economic power cannot be separated from the ethnic structure of the society or the system of ethno-social relations.
We the representatives of intellectuals and social movements, propose and request:
We are moved by anguish at the present tragic situation of the Erzya and Moksha peoples and worried at the indifference from the side of the governmental structures.
The authors of the appeal are not an emerging political party that would declare the interests of Erzyas and Mokshas at the expense of other nationalities. They adhere to different opinions, differ in their professions and political views, but they are united by their anxiety for the future of their nation, by their conscience and duty to their nations past and future.
Employees of universities and research institutes,
In the original, each signature is supplied with the position, degree and title of the signer. The appeal was submitted to the addressees on June 16, 1997.