That was the topic discussed at a conference organized by the European parliament's Finno-Ugric support group on September 27th in Strasbourg. Among those attending was minority and human rights activist Vladimir Kozlov. Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam greeted Kozlov's presence, for Russia has often barred Finno-Ugric activists from travelling abroad to participate in such international conferences.
Kozlov is the leader of the Mari ethnic opposition against the totalitarian regime in the Republic of Mari El (Russian Federation). He is also a writer and a journalist fighting for freedom of expression. Kozlov was one of ten nominees for the 2006 Sakharov Prize, the winner to be selected this month by the leaders of the EP's political parties, the Conference of Presidents. Kozlov was nominated by Toomas Hendrik Ilves (PES) on behalf of a group of MEPs.
Every year, the European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize for "Freedom of Thought" to exceptional individuals or organisations fighting against oppression, intolerance and injustice. Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and the UN are among former winners. The award is a visible means for Parliament to honour and support those who have put themselves at risk in the cause of liberty.
Kelam spoke at the conference, expressing concern over the preservation of indigenous Finno-Ugric languages and cultures. Kelam noted that the official statistics as presented by the Russian Duma do not answer the question of why streetsigns in their own native tongue are missing in Finno-Ugric towns and settlements. Kelam asked for reasons why only a minority of Finno-Ugric children receive primary education in their mother tongue. The MEP also expressed concern that a free and independent native tongue Finno-Ugric press has almost completely died off in Russia. Activists for language, minority and human rights have been physically attacked; Kozlov himself was the victim of a particularly brutal beating in 2005.
The MEPs at the conference assured Kozlov that the European parliament will keep monitoring with diligence the situation of Finno-Ugric peoples in the Russian federation
Are Finno-Ugric people living in Russia endangered?