Estonian Member of European Parliament on discussion with Russian parliamentarians on Russia’s minorities

Posted in Europe | 22-Apr-05 | Author: Tunne Kelam

Tunne Kelam: "The Russians have to respect the culture and protect the Maris, a 650,000 people Finno Ugric minority in Russia, now with support by EU"

"At our meeting, we raised the issue of violations of the rights of Russian minorities. The Russian delegates treated this matter rather superficially and we did not feel genuine concern. They turned more serious only when we insisted and stressed the importance of this subject to us", says European MP Tunne Kelam, describing the sitting of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Co-operation Committee held on 19-20 April in Moscow.

At these talks with their Russian counterparts the Europeans raised the issue of infringement on the rights of the Maris, a 650-thousand strong Finno-Ugric minority. This includes a wave of physical attacks against Mari cultural workers and opposition, as well as restrictions on the use of the native language in school teaching, broadcasting and publications.

"It is our duty to raise these issues, and we did that. However, we will have to constantly remind the Russians of the existing problems, and produce facts. Above all, we must achieve clarity in the case of merciless battery of Chairman of Mari Congress Mr. Vladimir Kozlov. I have a strong doubt about possible results of the procrastinated investigation into this case", says Tunne Kelam who is also a member of the Committee on Regional Development and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence of the European Parliament.

Commenting on the handling of the situation of Russia’s minorities by the European Parliament, Kelam said: "The Finno-Ugric topic is pretty new to most of the European delegates. Those Finno-Ugric peoples who are represented in the EU must acquaint others with the problem and explain who the Finno-Ugric peoples are. They must also explain the problems of Russia's minorities, their cultural rights and their effort to retain their ethnic identity. This requires long-run activities. I hope that the Finno-Ugric Forum established now in the European Parliament will help to spread information and achieve understanding. This needs speaking everywhere about these problems, as well as producing documents and reports. The issue of Russia’s minorities, including Finno-Ugric peoples, will certainly become an important issue to the European Parliament."

A day before, on 19 April, at the meeting of the delegation with Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Vladimir Chizhov, Tunne Kelam urged on Chizhov to take the situation of the Maris very seriously. Earlier, when a Hungarian representative drew Chizhov's attention to the events like battery and assassination of journalists and opposition leaders, Chizhov reacted by saying that the rate of crimes against ethnic Maris does not exceed the average rate in the Russian Federation and he did not see a problem.

Tunne Kelam drew the attention of Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister to suppression of cultural rights of the Mari nation. According to Kelam, Chizhov promised to consider these facts seriously and pass them to the relevant authorities. He excused by having never been to the administrative area where the Maris live, the Republic of Mari El, and by his ignorance of the situation.

Members of the European Parliament pass an action plan to improve the situation of Finno-Ugric minorities in Russia

On 26th of April, members of the Finno-Ugric Forum at the European Parliament approved an action plan to help Finno-Ugric minorities of Russia to improve their situation. Pointing at the goals set by the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples, the action plan provides for measures to improve the linguistic and cultural situation of these peoples, bringing it into accord with international standards.

The Finno-Ugric Forum urges the official bodies of European Union to enter a dialogue with the Russian authorities on the issues of linguistic and cultural rights of Finno-Ugric minorities. It also stipulates for cultural and youth exchanges and co-operation on the grass-root level.

The Forum decided to send its delegation to the next meeting of the Consultative Committee of the Finno-Ugric Peoples scheduled for this November in Syktyvkar, the capital city of the Komi Republic (Russia).

Members of the European Parliament also agreed to draw a resolution on the continuing violation of human rights in the Republic of Mari El and in the territories of Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia in general.

The Finno-Ugric Forum includes 44 delegates of the European Parliament, mostly from Finland, Hungary and Estonia.

Action Plan
of the Members of the European Parliament for the Finno-Ugric Minorities in Russia

The Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian Members of the European Parliament have decided to take measures in order to implement the goals of the IV World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples for improving the situation of the Finno-Ugric minorities in Russia.

The Finno-Ugric Members of the Parliament

1. Urge the Council and the Commission to ask the Russian Government to improve the situation of the Finno-Ugric minorities by administrative and financial reforms and by encouraging the regional and local authorities to respect and promote the cultural and linguistic rights of the minorities.

2. Urge the representatives of the European Parliament in the Joint Parliamentary Co-operation Committee with the Russian Parliament to open discussions on the problems of linguistic minorities in Russia and in the EU and of the action both parliaments could take in order to meet international standards in this field.

3. Urge the members of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and its Subcommittee on Human Rights to include the problems faced by the Finno-Ugric minorities in all resolutions dealing with Russia and with human rights in general.

4. Urge the members of the Committee for Foreign Affairs to follow keenly developments among the Finno-Ugric minorities in order to draw the attention of the Committee and the Parliament as a whole to any mistreatment by the authorities; agree on tabling an Urgency resolution on the recent problems faced by the Mari minority.

5. Urge members of the Committees on Culture and Budgets to call for allocation of appropriate resources for cultural and youth exchanges with the Finno-Ugric minorities, for providing them scholarships in the schools and universities of the EU member states and for providing them information on the international agreements on Human Rights in their own languages.

6. Agree on assisting the representatives of Finno-Ugric minorities in organising in the premises of the European Parliament an exhibition objectively portraying their situation in the Russian Federation.

7. Agree on activating the Governments and the NGOs of Estonia, Finland and Hungary to initiate programmes under the new Neighbourhood Policy in order to improve on the grass-roots level the linguistic, cultural and socio-economic situation of the Finno-Ugric minorities in Russia.

8. Agreed on sending a delegation to the next meeting of the Consultative Committee of the Finno-Ugric Peoples scheduled for 10-13 November 2005 in Syktyvkar to discuss possibilities for future co-operation.