Lost Cosmonaut (Sample) – Mari El


What is a Mari Anyway?

The most famous Finno-Ugric nations are the Hungarians, the Finns and the Estonians. They are descended from a tribe which, it is believed, emigrated west from the Ural Mountains on the border of Europe and Asia thousands of years ago. Their languages and myths stem from the same roots and display many similarities.

But there are other, smaller offshoots of the original tribe living in Romania, northern Russia and as far away as the Ob river in Siberia. From the nearly extinct Livonians to the Nenets living on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, from the Udmurt to the Sami, to the Mordvins, to the Permyaks, to the Komi, to the Karelians, to the Mari. There are groups, sub-groups and sub-sub-groups. Each speaks its own language and has its own culture derived from the original mother culture. There are three types of Mari for example, Hill Mari, Meadow Mari and Eastern Mari.

Add these three groups together and you have about 500,000 people, living mainly in the Republics of Mari El and Chuvashia and also in the Nizhni Novgorod region in Russia. Their history has been a hard and brutal one.


Some Highlights from the History of the Mari

And what is that history? Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important dates…

*551AD: The Mari living on banks of Volga first come under the subjection of a foreign power: the Ostrogoths. They remain that way until the…

*7th Century: When the Bolgars move in and take over. A few centuries pass with the Mari living as their vassals and then in…

*…1236: The Golden Horde arrive in the area. They crush the Bolgars but also crush the Mari.

*1437–1552: the Mari live under the heel of the Kazan Khanate. Like the Russians, the Mari pay tribute to Tatars. But they are also made to do menial work, repair town walls, build fortifications, and also have to serve in the army. The Mari live under their yoke until 1552, when the Russians sack Kazan and take over the Khan’s territories.

*1552–1557: The Mari fight against Russian colonisation. They lose.

*1572–1574: The Mari fight against Russian colonisation again. They lose.

*1581–1584: The Mari fight against Russian colonisation once more. And lose. A chronicler writes: ‘The marshes, lakes and rivers were filled with the bones of the Mari and the earth saturated with their blood.’ Many of them are resettled in the East. Russian colonisation begins in earnest.

*17th–18th Century: Extensive pressure to convert to Russian orthodoxy leads many Mari to emigrate. Their original national territory is divided between the provinces of Kazan, Vyatka and Nizhni Novgorod. The Mari, meanwhile, take an active part in two peasant revolts, one led by Stepan Razin and the other by Emelyan Pugatchev, which got as far as Kazan Kremlin. The uprisings are cruelly suppressed, many peasants are beaten, tortured, sent to prison, or executed. Some lucky ones get all four.

*1812: Napoleon invades Russia. The Mari consider the prospect of French domination worse than Russian domination and many join the army to fight the cheese eaters. The Mari peasant Vassily Grigoryev becomes a national hero for taking part in the capture of Paris. In spite of this, however, for the rest of the …

*19th Century: The Mari territories are considered a backward region. People live in poverty. One out of every four babies dies in infancy. Frequent droughts destroy crops over large areas. There are only a few primitive factories producing glass, leather and wine. Eighty-four per cent of the Mari are illiterate. Scholars predict that they will soon die out.

*1917: The October Revolution leads to the creation of the world’s first socialist state. Toiling masses around the world rejoice.

*1920: Like the Tatars and the Kalmyk, the Mari are given their own titular ‘homeland’. The Mari Autonomous Oblast (region) is formed. However, Russians and Uncle Toms are in charge and many Mari live outside its borders anyway. The Soviets begin the work of abolishing traditional holidays and repressing traditional beliefs.

*1930s: Collectivisation takes place. Mari villages are uprooted and transferred to work on enormous collective farms. A centuries’ old way of life is destroyed. Stalin’s purges begin and the majority of Mari intellectuals are exterminated.

*1936: Time for a name change: the Mari Autonomous Oblast becomes the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Some paper mills open.

*1950s: Russian industrialisation and colonisation intensifies.

*1960s: Increased urbanisation leads to a rapid decline in the use of the Mari language. More and more Mari becomes a mere “language of the village”.

*1992: Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic is renamed The Republic of Mari El. It gets a nice new flag, too.

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