Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 552,299 Udmurts in the Russian Federation. Udmurts are linguistically and culturally close to Komi and Komi-Permyaks and share similar shamanist-animist beliefs with Maris. Their language belongs to the Permian branch of the Finno-Ugric language family. Most Udmurts live in the Udmurt Republic and Tatarstan, Mari-El, Bashkortostan, Kirov and Perm Oblasts.
Originally established as an Autonomous Oblast (AO) (Votsk) in November 1920, Udmurtia became an ASSR in December 1934. It declared sovereignty in September 1990. The nationalist Demen Society of Udmurt Culture has pressed for the establishment of Udmurt as the official language. Russian is spoken by a sizeable percentage of the population. In 1992 the Supreme Soviet of the republic failed to elect a president because none of the candidates spoke Udmurt fluently.
In November 1992 the First World Congress of Finno-Ugrian Peoples took place in the Komi Republic. Delegates called for self-determination for all indigenous peoples and national minorities and condemned ‘Russian imperialism’. The Second Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples was held in July 1995 to demand new rights, including property rights in their traditional areas of settlement and language privileges.
Securing Udmurt-medium tuition has become an increasing a concern for ethnic Udmurts in the republic. In August 2005 a letter was sent by a parents’ collective to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to protest the failure of republican authorities to provide Udmurt-medium education. Parents expressed concern that a school building made available for Udmurt pupils in the republican capital Izhevsk was too remote.
At present there are three main Udmurt cultural and national associations in the Russian Federation: the Udmurt Association (‘Udmurt Kenesh’), the Udmurt Cultural Community (‘Demen’) and the Udmurt Youth Organisation (‘Shundy’). The Udmurt Cultural Community, the largest and oldest association in the Udmurt Republic, has its local and regional offices in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and in Perm Krai. Since 1992 it has been organizing traditional events and festivals in partnership with the Udmurt Ministry of Culture. It also helps maintains contacts with the Finno-Ugric peoples from Estonia, Finland and Hungary by contributing to joint projects.
In April 2013, the regional seminar on the future of the Udmurt youth movements took place in the city of Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurt Republic. The seminar was aimed at discussing the preservation and development of Udmurt culture and traditions among the Udmurt youth. This reflects broader concerns around the declining number of Udmurt speakers and the limited opportunities available to study the language.
Updated December 2020
Minorities and indigenous peoples in
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