Consultative Committee
of Finno-Ugric Peoples

Speech at the Formal Opening of the 5th World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples

President Dmitry Medvedev: Dear participants and guests of the Fifth World Congress of Finno-Ugric peoples!

I am glad to see you all in Khanty-Mansiisk. And once again I would like to welcome our distinguished guests, the Presidents of Finland, Hungary and Estonia.

Let me say right off that this Congress, which we traditionally hold together, is a testimony to the sincere and deep mutual desire to develop our cooperation and to do everything in the name of a decent life for our peoples, with all their unique traditions and cultures.

Bound together by common roots, Finno-Ugric peoples have for centuries been able to preserve their identity and traditional way of life. Across the centuries they have safeguarded the languages and customs of their ancestors. And now, in the modern world, they occupy an extensive, mutually-enriching cultural and information space. This is the space that we have come to call the Finno-Ugric world.

There is no need to remind you that a large part of this world is both geographically and historically linked with Russia Out of 24 Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic peoples and ethnic groups 19 live in our country.

Russia is the country where the international Finno-Ugric movement was born, and here in 1992 we celebrated the first World Congress of Finno-Ugric peoples. There have been other large forums since.

I know that one idea currently being discussed is the periodic rotation of the headquarters of the Consultative Committee of Finno-Ugric Peoples. If such a decision is taken we will support it. And for as long as the headquarters is in one of Russia's regions we can guarantee all the necessary conditions for the Committee to carry out its important work.

I would stress in particular that by implementing joint projects to protect national languages and traditions, you help conserve the identity of Finno-Ugric peoples.

Obviously the value of such opportunities in the modern world can only increase, especially in the light of ongoing globalization, which tends to blur national identity and cultural spheres.

I want to add the following. Common ethno-cultural capacities and values strengthen our moral and spiritual character. Teaching people about origins means inculcating respect for the family, the experience of the older generation, work and patriotic values. It teaches something that is absolutely necessary for the creation of a civilised, tolerant environment and civic maturity. It is encouraging that these issues that are so topical are one of the central themes of today's Congress.

Your work is directly related to current problems of intercultural dialogue in the entire world.

For multinational Russia this is particularly important. Indeed, the very historical development of the Russian nation is in no small measure based on the riches associated with our ethno-cultural and multi-confessional environment. For many centuries we have inhabited a state composed of more than one hundred and sixty different peoples.

Thanks to this unity the Russian nation has withstood many tests. And today it is an important factor in overcoming extremist sentiment, and national and religious intolerance.

The Finno-Ugric peoples have always been an integral part of Russia’s ethno-cultural mosaic. They have actively cooperated with other peoples in strengthening the state, mastering its enormous natural wealth and creating its industrial strength, including here in Yugra in the territory of the Khanty and Mansi.

Today the community of Russia’s Finno-Ugric peoples comprises about three million people. We have much to do to ensure their proper development and we will do it. I note that the Finno-Ugrians have the largest number of administrative-territorial formations in which they are titular nationalities. They participate in the management of territories, are represented in the executive and legislative branches.

Some of these peoples number in the hundreds of thousands. But there are also those who today number only a few hundred. Many of them are given special status as small indigenous peoples.

Of course this constitutes a difficult demographic situation and the ageing of the population is widely acknowledged to be a problem. Today, we will share our impressions on these issues with our colleagues. And we have to give priority to implementing measures to improve fertility, increase life expectancy of people in general and to improve their quality of life. We expect that this could help stabilize the populations of the Finno-Ugric peoples.

Their ethno-cultural development is based in two cultural and educational centres: in the Volga Region in Saransk and the Komi Republic in Syktyvkar. Together with the regions they support the educational programmes in their native language, national schools, theatres and folk crafts.

There are more than a 100 newspapers and magazines in the languages of the group, including a Russia-wide newspaper. In every region where there is certain number of Finno-Ugrians, they have national television and radio broadcasting. And in higher education there are institutes and centres for studying native languages.

Internet projects and the creation of new electronic portals offer new opportunities for the cultural and educational integration of the Finno-Ugric Peoples. I know that these will also be actively discussed at your forum.

I assume that other vital aspects of ethno-cultural cooperation will be discussed during the congress, including its influence on relations among states.

I should note that Russia will continue to support efforts in this area, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

I have already held meetings today with the Presidents of Finland, Hungary and Estonia. And we greatly appreciated the joint efforts made on various Finno-Ugric topics. We also believe that today we must be equally constructive in developing other areas of mutually beneficial cooperation, thereby creating a favorable foundation for good-neighbourliness and communication among our peoples.

Such contacts will facilitate the process of learning about each other’s lives. This is all the more important given the ongoing political speculations on this subject. Typically these come from those with the most superficial view of the life of the Finno-Ugrians in our country. Along with that they also seek to hide the real facts about how the assimilation of these peoples has been accelerated in some European countries.

Meanwhile, the modern world, including many European nations, has already faced serious ethnic conflicts. Various pressures sometimes result in uncontrolled flows of migration. And we all still have much to do to find optimal solutions for what are difficult and truly global problems.

In any case, these solutions should be based on mutual respect and an interest in the prosperity of all nationalities and cultures, languages, customs and spiritual traditions.

And here is where the experience of ethno-cultural dialogues between our countries can become truly invaluable, including those that take place under the auspices of your Congress.

Once again, I heartily thank all concerned for their commitment and cooperation and I wish the participants of the Congress successful and fruitful work.