Thursday, September 01, 2005
Finno-Ugric leader beaten in Russia
Vasili Petrov, chairman of the Youth Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples (MAFUN), was beaten up on Saturday night in his home village in the Russian Mari Republic.
The Information Center of the Finno-Ugric Peoples said in a statement published on its website, Petrov was attacked from behind and struck with a heavy object. He suffered a fractured arm and a fractured jaw, and sustained a head injury.
The government of the Mari Republic said in an official release it saw no grounds to suspect any political motives behind the assault. The government claimed Petrov was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and was attacked by village youths who were also drunk, the Helsingin Sanomat website said.
Vladimir Kozlov, head of Russia’s ethnic Mari movement, confirmed on Monday that the attack had taken place, but denied that Petrov had been intoxicated. Beatings of opposition supporters and critical journalists have become commonplace under the region’s president Leonid Markelov.
Meanwhile, Helsingin Sanomat reports that the International Congress of Finno-Ugric Studies, held this weekend in the Mari El republic, met numerous obstacles:
Already before the gathering the militia and security forces of the republic held conspicuous "rescue exercises". The local Mari El newspaper reported on the exercises, which were aimed at practising repulsing attacks by "terrorists and other extremist elements".
In one of the police exercises, the officers rehearsed removing a bomb from the location of the congress - the large stage of the Mari National Theatre. In another exercise they defused a dummy explosive in a Lada parked on a highway, and in another, they captured a terrorist after a shooting incident.
In the imaginary situation, a sniper was removed from the building where the guests of the congress were housed.
"It was in this atmosphere that we were supposed to engage in scientific discourse", said Riho Grünthal, Professor of Baltic Finnish Languages at the University of Helsinki.
Fewer than 40 researchers from Finland took part in the congress, even though over 80 had registered. The delegations of Estonia and Hungary had also shrunk to less than half. There were only about 20 Estonians, and just under 40 Hungarians.
Some of the scientists, such as Finnish Professor Pauli Saukkonen, had stayed away to protest the policies of the government of the Mari Republic, which has been accused of oppressing the ethnic Mari in the region.
Finnish participants said that science turned into politics. Their local colleagues were ordered not to discuss anything concerning the problems of the republic. Anyone asking a question about a controversial matter was faced with a brick wall of silence.
The foreign guests were constantly followed by police, and an entire police convoy would accompany each of the various excursions. It was certainly safe, but it was difficult to meet ordinary residents, and photography was also restricted.
The scrutiny went so far that mobile phones used by Finnish participants were silenced when they tried to set up meetings with local colleagues.
Scheduled meetings were cancelled, when a local colleague was suddenly compelled to go on holiday on the day in question. The Mari participants at the congress were also threatened with "repercussions" after the departure of the foreign guests.
Municipal leaders would often begin their speeches by saying "Thanks to President Leonid Markelov, we are doing well". After a folk dance performance it was said: "Only a happy nation dances like this!"