TALLINN - Estonia intends to keep defending the interests of Finno-Ugric nations, PM Juhan Parts said following the recent protests over alleged human rights violations in the Russian Federation's Republic of Mari El.
"Now that we have reached our certain goals, we have the moral responsibility to do more in standing up for the interests of our kindred Finno-Ugric peoples," said Parts at a press conference last week.
Parts added that the EU and Russia had organized a dialog regarding human rights issues and that the Finno-Ugric peoples' situation was on the agenda.
"At our meeting with the Russian Duma delegation this question was raised and discussed. What the Russian administration can do is a separate question, but we should carry on with the political information, economic and cultural cooperation [with other Finno-Ugric peoples]," said Parts.
The appeal on behalf of the Mari People was released by a number of Estonian, Finnish and other foreign intellectuals on Feb. 22 and called for international attention to the alleged discrimination and attacks against this minority.
The appeal said that Mari El authorities had reacted indifferently to a recent assault on Vladimir Kozlov, editor of a Finno-Ugric newspaper and head of the all-Russian movement of the Mari people. By March 5 the appeal, which was first published in Estonian and Finnish dailies and then online, had gathered 6,105 signatures.
Sergei Loskutov, spokesman for the Mari El President Leonid Markelov, confirmed that the assault on Kozlov did take place and said that the investigation procedures were carried out in full accordance with the law.
"At this point the investigation does not have any grounds for linking the assault with Kozlov's professional activities," said Loskutov.
He added that this was not the first time the government had been accused of violating the rights of certain individuals or groups. And no such appeals received support from the majority of All-Mari Council members or the general public, Loskutov said.
"Numerous representatives of various public organizations, including international ones, who visit the republic do not confirm these accusations. Besides, the Republic of Mari El is one of the recognized centers of the Finno-Ugric world, which is confirmed by the decision to carry out the world congress of Finno-Ugric researchers in summer 2005," he said.