TALLINN — Fenno-Ugria, an Estonian NGO that is currently playing a key role in supporting the often hard-pressed Finno-Ugric nationalities within the Russian Federation, this month marks the 15th anniversary of its reestablishment after the recovery of Estonian independence in 1991.
Among the activities accompanying the celebration are a Day of Finno-Ugric Peoples at the Estonian Open Air Museum in Tallinn, folk concerts, and an exhibit on the group’s history and activities in the Academic Library of Tallinn State University (http://www.suri.ee/press/ENG20....
Originally set up in that Baltic country in 1927 but suppressed following the Soviet occupation, the Fenno-Ugria NGO has helped to provide a permanent bridge between the three Finno-Ugric nation states of Estonia, Finland and Hungary, on the one hand, and their small linguistic and cultural relatives in Russia, on the other.
The group, which is supported by UNESCO and the Open Society Institute, has organized conferences, folklore festivals, and educational exchanges, but perhaps its most important activity is its website, http://www.suri.ee, which serves as a clearing house for information about all these peoples.
Unlike many sites in Finno-Ugric regions of the Russian Federation which are either controlled by local officials or frequently hacked (for what appears to be an example of that, see the damaged links at http://finugor.ru/), the Estonian site is in a position to report on a daily basis about developments that many Russian officials would like to bury in silence.
Among the site’s most notable efforts was the Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People, a document that outlined the problems that Middle Volga nationality now faces. Posted on the site for more than a year, it was signed by officials, academics and concerned citizens from all Finno-Ugric groups as well as from many other countries and nationalities.
That appeal played a key role in attracting the attention of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and other international human rights groups to the oppressive conditions now found in Mari El. Not surprisingly, Russian officials there and Russian media outlets attacked both the appeal and the site.
But the site does more than just report what officials in Finno-Ugric regions would like to see ignored. It also reports on developments among the Finno-Ugric peoples of the Russian Federation that officials are proud of but would pass unnoticed if they were not translated into a Western language and made available on an easily accessible webpage.
In postings for May 2006, for example, this Fenno-Ugria site reported on academic meetings in Yoshkar-Ola and Helsinki, the problems some Mari had in attending both, and misinformation spread by a Russian news agency about the relocation of a Finno-Ugric Cultural Center in the Komi Republic.
When the Fenno-Ugria NGO was reestablished and its site put on the web, most of those involved thought that they would be supplementing sites put up by the Finno-Ugric peoples themselves. But now, as conditions have worsened for many of them, both this group and especially its site have become something far more important.
They serve as a lifeline between these nationalities and the West, something that encourages the Finno-Ugric nations to continue to press for their rights and that limits actions by some Russian officials to violate the rights of these groups.
Not surprisingly, many Russian officials are unhappy about that. But all those in the Finno-Ugric world and more generally all those who care about the rights of all communities can only join in celebrating the 15th birthday of a group and a website whose activities are helping these groups to survive, if not yet to prosper.
Finno-Ugric support group in Estonia marks 15th anniversary