Moscow Seeks to Isolate Finno-Ugric Peoples in Russia From Those in the West

By Paul Goble
Twenty of the 24 Finno-Ugric peoples live on the territory of the Russian Federation, and more than 3 million of the 25 million people in the Finno-Ugric world are citizens of that country. Since 1991, the three Finno-Ugric countries in the West—Estonia, Finland and Hungary—have sought to develop relations with their co-ethnics in Russia. The latter have welcomed such initiatives and participated in a variety of cooperative ventures, including a series of world congresses of the Finno-Ugric peoples. In general, the members of this group continue to be enthusiastic about these contacts.  But the latest such meeting, held on June 15–17 in the Finnish city of Lyakhti, highlighted a disturbing new trend: efforts by Moscow to cut the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia off from their Western counterparts. Such Russian actions not only recall the worst excesses of the Soviet period but also cast a dark shadow on the future of the Finno-Ugric peoples under Moscow’s control.
Andrey Tuomi, a Karelian journalist for Vesti Karelii, says that as a result of Moscow’s policies and in spite of the desires of the Finno-Ugric nations in Russia, a yawning “gulf” is opening up “between the Russian and Western parts of the Finno-Ugric world that was earlier a single whole.”  He argues that this means that such sessions as the recent congress, as happy as they make all delegates and observers given the personal contacts they can make, have become “a dialogue of the deaf with the blind” between “two worlds and two realities.” Tuomi’s words are a devastating conclusion for someone who has invested so much of his career to promoting contacts among all Finno-Ugric peoples (, June 24).
The three European Finno-Ugric countries were represented at the congress by their presidents and delegations as large or larger than any they had sent in the past. Whereas Russia was represented by a deputy minister of culture, Aleksandr Zhuravsky, and delegations that Moscow reduced the size of in order to ensure they included more officials and fewer activists.  But it was what Zhuravsky said that provides the clearest indication of where Moscow is heading in this area.

If the Finno-Ugric presidents talked about problems and possibilities, Tuomi says, the Russian representative had a message that can be summed up in a single phrase: “Russia has done everything possible for the preservation of national cultures and languages, but European partners cannot understand this.” Zhuravsky’s speech was “quite aggressive and accusatory and did not fail to mention sanctions.” Finally, perhaps most outrageously for the Finno-Ugric peoples, the Russian official collectively dismissed them as “aborigines living on the territory of the Russian state” who need to “be shown their place in the imperial system of values.”