The Eastern Mari
Other Mari diasporas
Specific aims of research
As part of the overall discourse on inter-ethnic relations in the post-Soviet space, the problem of diasporas presents itself as being one of the most problematic. More often than not, diasporas today are only mentioned in reference to the Russian and Russian-speaking populations remaining in the newly-independent states of the ‘Near Abroad’. At the same time, similar problems can be observed among those ethnic groups separated or divided by domestic or internal boundaries: an international border is not necessarily required. In other words, diasporas can exist within the same state.
The Russian Federation contains some 20 million representatives of non-Russian peoples for whom exist a ‘titular’ (named) autonomous administrative unit of one level or another. If one includes as ‘diasporas’ the members of these peoples living outside of their corresponding autonomous units, then in total some 8 million people constitute an internal diaspora in Russia. Thus one can argue that the problems of many minorities in Russia are to a significant degree those of diasporas in general.
The Mari are one of the Finno-Ugrian peoples of the Volga-Urals region. Their titular autonomous unit, the Republic of Mari El, is situated in the Middle Volga. However, the result of migration and administrative gerrymandering, almost every second Mari of the 644,000-strong total Mari population in Russia lives beyond the borders of their titular republic.
The most significant part of the Mari diaspora - the Eastern Mari - lives in the republics of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Udmurtia, as well as in Perm’ and Sverdlovsk provinces. The migration of Mari from the Middle Volga to these areas began four centuries ago, as result of the fall of the Kazan’ Khanate and the process of the Russian colonisation of the Volga Basin. Their settlements do not constitute a single territory, but are spread out over a large area, where they form comparatively small ethnic clusters, and even tiny ethnic enclaves which may be no bigger than a single compact settlement. The total Eastern Mari population reaches almost 200,000, and more than half of it lives in Bashkortostan. The general regions of settlement are shown on the following map.
Bordering on the Republic of Mari El, in Kirov and Nizhnii Novgorod provinces, also lives a significant Mari diaspora population (44,000 and 8,000 respectively). These settlements have existed throughout the historical period, and the Mari population of these two provinces - thus differing from the Eastern Mari - are not the result of migration, but rather of administrative demarcations.
An initial underlying principle of the project recognises the fact that the assumption of a single and unified Mari identity, or even of a uniform Eastern Mari diaspora identity, is not realistic. It is possible to identify several manifestations of diaspora ethnic self-consciousness. The second principle - at least relevant at this particular moment in time - acknowledges that in any analysis of diasporas, it is necessary to take into account a three-way nexus of ties which exist between the diaspora community, its perceived ethnic homeland and the country of present habitation (in this case, the autonomous state formation or province).
For any examination of the contemporary problems of diaspora groups, from the beginning it has been necessary to learn about the specific history of the formation of the diaspora communities - in this case the Eastern Mari - and their relative position in the intricate patchwork of ethnic groups in the Volga-Urals region, both in the Tsarist and Soviet eras.
On the demographic side, this research will trace the population dynamics and the factors affecting the basic groups of Mari over the post-WWII period, in order to determine the contemporary areal settlement of the entire Mari diaspora. Related to this is the study of the incidence of inter-ethnic marriage. Both sets of data will permit a picture to be formed of the intensity of ethnic contacts, as well as an evaluation of the potential strength of assimilatory pressures on each group.
The immediate setting for possible mobilisation, or simply for the ethnic activities of the Mari diaspora is influenced by the three-way nexus of relations between the diaspora groups themselves, the subjects of the federation where these groups live, and the titular republic - Mari El. In this triangular relationship the intelligentsia (ethnic elite) plays a vital role. Connected to this, an attempt will be made to verify the applicability of a theoretical model which suggests consecutive phases in the development of ethnic movements. Thus a part of this research will also look at the processes involved in the formation of diaspora elites and their relations with the Mari national movement.
For a variety of reasons, it is characteristic of diaspora identities to differ by their multi-layered and highly fragmented natures. In connection with this, it is intended to create a typology of the different possible paths of diaspora identity development. The concluding part of research will try to pin-point along which channels these identities are developing, and to identify which efforts at revival will hold a place of influence on these processes.