They suggest that the move to force the paper's closure was taken in retaliation for articles it printed criticizing the local authorities for their reluctance to take any measures to prevent the Erzya language, which is designated a state language in the republic's constitution together with Russian, from dying out.
Noting Putin's responsibility as head to state to "conduct a dialogue between representatives of different ethnic groups and religions," the signatories appeal to him to intervene.
Fighting Against Decline
Once the largest Uralic people within the Russian Federation, the Mordvins' numbers have reportedly fallen from 1,262,670 in 1970 to 1,153,516 in 1989, and by a further 300,000 over the past decade. At the time of the Russian Federation census of 2002, they accounted for just 31.9 percent of Mordovia's population of 888,766, while Russians accounted for 60.8 percent.
The Mordvins comprise two closely related ethnic groups, the Erzya and the Moksha, with the former outnumbering the latter by approximately two to one. The Erzya and Moksha languages, although related, are so different that speakers of one frequently have difficulty in understanding the other; Russian has become the lingua franca.
The Mordvins have for years been campaigning to reverse the steady erosion of their languages. At the Third Congress of the Mordvin People, which took place in Saransk, the Mordovian capital, in 1999, delegates were formally tasked by the republic's parliament with drafting legislation to promote the study of Mordvin in the republic's schools.
But six years later, the Erzya addressed an appeal to the 10th World Finno-Ugric Congress in Yoshkar-Ola in which they said neither Erzya nor Moksha is taught any longer in urban schools, while rural schools are being closed down. The recent appeal by the three journalists to Putin claimed that Erzya is "practically no longer taught," neither is there any textbook of the history of the Erzya people.
In those conditions, the forced closure of "Erzyan mastor," which has been published fortnightly since 1994 by the Mordovia Public Fund to Save the Erzya Language, could deal a death blow to the embattled Erzya language and thus, as the open letter signatories warn, to the Erzya's sense of national identity.
The Erosion Of CIS Press Freedom
FROM BAD TO WORSE. RFE/RL and Freedom House experts held a panel discussion at which they analyzed the erosion of press freedom in many CIS countries. According to Freedom House rankings, in 1994, six of the 12 CIS countries were rated "partly free"; by 2004, 11 of the 12 were rated "not free."
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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