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Russia’s Ministry of Justice recommends restricting activities of social organisations

On 23 March, the general meeting of the Mari Republic regional social organisation Mari Ushem was held in Yoshkar-Ola, this time in a commercial venue. The republican, state-funded central institution for national organisations, the ‘Friendship of Nations’ (Дружба народов), did not provide a venue for the meeting.

The meeting was opened by Igor Kudryavtsev, chairman of the regional Mari Ushem, who proposed to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack at the Crocus Concert Hall in Moscow. Vladimir Kozlov, chairman of the board, then took the floor, informing that the organisation had 202 members at the beginning of 2024. As many of the members no longer had membership due to an order from the Ministry of Justice, the board had to work hard to fixate new memberships and as of 23 March the organisation had 64 members. Of these, 34 turned up, meaning that the general meeting could be considered legitimate.

Why has the membership of the organisation declined? Some members simply did not participate in the work of the organisation, while others had to leave because members paid from the public budget, especially librarians and school teachers, were being harassed at work because of their membership. However, several members had left the Republic of Mari El in search of work.

There were two items on the agenda, first the report of Igor Kudryavtsev, chairman of Mari Ushem, and the report of the audit committee. After the report, representatives of the different regions took the floor in the debate, but this time there weren’t so many speeches and discussion. It was not until December that the organisation’s congress was held. On the other hand, the members of the organisation clearly understood what the organisation was doing, where it was going and why it was raising important issues such as demography, ecology, cadre policy and socio-economic issues alongside cultural, language and heritage issues. The issue of engaging new members and working with the people was discussed. A very serious discussion was held on the injunction given to the organisation by the local office of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. ‘In April this year, we will have to submit a report to them on the elimination of violations of the law by our organisation,’ said Kudryavtsev.

Igor Kudryavtsev pointed out that the Ministry of Justice had a lot of reproaches for the organisation’s activities: the organisation is accused of dealing with demographics (i.e., the situation of the Mari), ecology (the environment in which the Mari live), socio-economic situation (how people live today). There were also accusations of dealing with personnel policy and religion. The organisation was advised to confine itself to educational and cultural issues.

In this context, the general assembly amended the preamble of the statutes and made several changes. Participants at the general assembly agreed that restrictions are restrictions, but it was felt that the members of the organisation must stand side by side with the Mari people and look after the people, and this is not just an empty slogan. It was reaffirmed that issues other than dance and song are important to the Mari people.