Stories of Mari El Republic

Mari El Republic


The republic is located in the eastern part of the East European Plain of Russia, along the Volga River. The swampy Mari Depression is located in the west of the republic. 57% of the republic’s territory is covered by forests.

Ancient Mari tribes were known since the 5th century, though archeologists suspect Mari culture to be much older in its roots. Later their area was a tributary of Volga Bulgaria and the Golden Horde. In the 1440s it was incorporated into the Khanate of Kazan and was occupied by the Tsardom of Russia (governed by Ivan the Terrible) after the fall of Kazan in 1552.

After the Russian Revolution, under Bolshevik regime, Mari Autonomous Oblast was established on November 4, 1920. It was re-organized into Mari ASSR on December 5, 1936, same as the enactment of the 1936 Soviet Constitution, a.k.a. “Stalin Constitution”. In its present form the Mari El Republic was formed on December 22, 1990.

Though the Mari people have lived in the area for millennia, they did not have a designated territory before the Russian Revolution of 1917. According to the 2002 Census only 51.7% of the Mari within Russia live in the Mari El Republic, while 17.5% live in the Republic of Bashkortostan. During the last Soviet Census (1989), 4% of the Mari of the Soviet Union lived outside of Russia.

Since World War II, more ethnic Russians and Tatars have moved into the area. According to the 2010 Census,[8] Russians make up 47.4% of the republic’s population, while the ethnic Mari make up 43.9%. Other groups include Tatars (5.8%), Chuvash (0.9%), Ukrainians (0.6%), and a host of smaller groups, each accounting for less than 0.5% of the total population.

The most common religions in the republic include Russian Orthodoxy, the Mari Traditional Religion, the Old Believers, and Islam. The traditional Mari religion - Chimari Yula is still practiced to by many Mari people and is the main religion of the Mari of Bashkordistan, also practiced is a syncretism of Paganism and Christianity. The Czars took drastic measures to force Christianity on the Mari, going so far as blowing up a holy mountain, and the persecution of the religion went on under the Soviet Union. In the 1990s the religion was officially recognised by the State and began to revive. Mari gather at around 520 holy groves where they offer animal and vegetable sacrifices, there are about 20 festivals yearly. Even though traditional religion is one of Mari El’s three officially recognised religions (along with Orthodoxy and Islam) Mari religious practices have come under increasing pressure, according to human rights groups.