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In Search of Merjamaa. 5. Sharing information
5. 1 PUBLISHING
Producing and publishing material about the Meryan theme is perhaps the most important type of voluntary activity for the neo-Meryan movement. As such, the movement reflects the changes which have taken place in the field of local studies during the last decades. As new web 2.0 tools were developed, local studies librarians realized the possibilities, and it is possible to create even worldwide interest in what was ”kept locked up in filing cabinets or display cases” for a long time (Mac Ritchie 2011, p. 89). The neo-Meryan movement applies several Internet media channels, including the Merjamaa and the Merya Mir portals, and a Facebook as well as a vKontakte accounts. Moreover, many of the neo-Meryan activists have a private webblog dealing with the Meryan issue.
Publishing material about the Meryan theme happens through many channels. The most productive of them is the Merjamaa portal in which new texts are published on a regular basis. However, more voluminous texts are also published in an Internet library which works alongside the Merjamaa portal. Together, the research data include 7 texts published in electronic form in the Merjamaa Internet library and one text published in an another Internet library. Also the Pajwa webshop is attached to the portal, and it is where printed books can be purchased. The research data include two announcements of a book available in the Pajwa. Moreover, there is one announcement of a printed book which can be bought from an individual person. Finally, one book can be bought from a bookshop which is specialized in selling self published books or books with a small number of copies.
Many of the publishing projects are very ambitious of their nature. The research material includes two articles of printed books which are published by the Merja Press, a name given to Meryan activists` own publications. The Merja Press stands for modern day samizdat publishing.
5. 2 SAMIZDAT
A good description of modern day samizdat is given by E. V. Savenko (2016). Savenko defines samizdat as ”an unregistered, self-imposed, non-commercial periodical with a small circulation”. According to Savenko, samizdat survived in post-Soviet Russia despite of the broadened sphere of information. The reforms of the early 1990s resulted in changes in publishing, and the state monopoly of this activity was abolished. However, only those publishing structures which receive economic support were able to survive in the new circumstances. Therefore, economic independence constitutes a significant limit to the freedom of publishing. (Savenko 2016, p. 89.)
According to Savenko, frustration towards official media is the reason why samizdat has survived. What attracts the literati to self publishing is the need of self expression which official publishing activity can not satisfy. Nevertheless, as a distinction to its predecessor, the 21st century samizdat does not manifest itself as a significant social phenomenon. Instead, it is limited to a local circle of readers. (ibid., p. 89 – 90.)
Also the neo-Meryan publishing activity has to do with self-expression. This can be seen in an article presenting a Meryan dictionary (Merjamaa 27 March 2013). According to the article, the Metsa Kunnta association was able to release “an explanatory Meryan dictionary of a maximal integrity” after a three year process. The dictionary includes toponyms and onomastics of the Upper Volga region and Meryan words from those Russian dialects and argotic languages which are spoken by the inhabitants of Kostroma, Vladimir, Ivanovo and Yaroslavl oblasts.
The dictionary approaches Meryan language through toponyms and dialects. An indisputable Finno-Ugric influence can be observed in the dialects and toponyms of Central and Northern Russia (Ahlqvist 1992, p. 1). However, problems in the reconstruction of the Meryan lexicon system have to do with the definition of boundaries between Meryan and other Finno-ugric words (Tkachenko 2007, p. 89.) An attempt of revitalizing Meryan language is quite ambitious, and the feedback given to the new dictionary was not completely positive. According to an article published in the Merjamaa portal in 2014, professional linguists looked down on the vocabulary published by The Merya Press. However, this did not bother those who participate in the project. Namely, the Meryan vocabulary became so popular ”among the enthusiasts of history and culture” that its final number of copies exceeded the original one by thirty times. (Merjamaa 31 December 2014.)
Voluntary publishing activity may serve as a means of distributing symbolic capital. According to Pierre Bourdieu, symbolic capital is any quality which turns symbolically effective. This calls for social actors with suitable categories of observation and appreciation. (Bourdieu 1998, p. 165.) Like the example shows, there was a demand for a Meryan vocabulary among ”the enthusiasts of history and culture” although professional linguists were not able to appreciate it. Thus, samizdat publishing can be seen as a protest against official academic scientists without an ability to appreciate the Meryan theme. Moreover, producing and distributing books with an alternative nature can be seen as a protest against the prevailing situation in Russian book market. Here, voluntary publishing activity and the private sector may effectively cooperate. This can be observed in the business idea of an alternative Muscovite bookshop through which a book dealing with Mescheran history could be purchased. The article informing about the book (Merjamaa 30 August 2011) includes a link to the website of this bookshop specialized in selling ”uncommon books with a small number of copies, the publications of the capital city and provinces”, and ”the unofficial literature of different factions” (Russkaya Derevnya 2011).
The business idea of the bookshop is an ideological one. According to it, an essential problem of distributing rare books with a small number of copies is that these books do not often end up to shops. Moreover, the business idea also speaks out about the situation in today`s book market:
”So what is this value of books and how does it correspond with their price? When you search the price of any not overly uncommon book with a search engine,- you will easily find out that our price is lower than the average price in the Muscovite market. The essential reason for this is that the Muscovite market are not free. The extremely high prices (preventing the normal sale of books) have taken shape and keep on taking shape as aresult of a ”particular” relationship between wholesalers and biggest retail stores.” (Russkaya Derevnya 2011.)
The business idea reflects the problem in Russian publishing presented by Savenko: economic independency constitutes a limit to the freedom of publishing (Savenko 2016, p. 89). However, the problem here is in the monopoly status prevailing in Russian book market. The former state monopoly of the Soviet era has been replaced by a new one sustained by private market. Therefore, samizdat may create an alternative sphere in which volunteers and alternative private enterprises come together. The question is about social capital. Here, belonging to a group stems from relationships which are founded on economic and symbolic exchanges (Bourdieu 1980, p. 2). The nature of these exchanges can be observed in the ways of financing samizdat.
5. 3 FINANCING SAMIZDAT
Samizdat publishing does not only set intellectual challenges. Namely, releasing a selfpublication requires money. In the case of the Meryan dictionary the number of editions was one hundred copies, and the author of the Meryan dictionary carried out the project on his own expence. The price of a dictionary was set to 300 rubles, and it could be bought from the Pajwa webshop. (Finugor.)
The research data does not indicate the existence of any systematic fundraising models applied by Meryan organisations. The Merjamaa Internet portal neither includes a bank account number for donations nor any petition for them. In addition, there is no mention about membership fees in the portal. In this sense the Metsa Kunnta association, for example, is a typical Russian grassroot organisation. These organisations do not rely on membership fees in their activity (Henry 2006, p. 214).
According to Laura A. Henry, grassroot groups require less financial support than professionalized or government affiliate groups do, because they do not need to maintain office space, staff, or technology. Instead, volunteer workers and in-kind donations along with occasional small grants and money from city and regional administrators enable the survival of these organisations. (Henry 2006b, p. 114.) The research data seems to support Henry`s observations. The neo-Meryan organisations apply similar methods in financing their activity. The functional principle of the Pajwa webshop run by the Metsa Kunnta association is a good example The article `The Amulets of Pajwa – The Northern Ethnos´ presents Pajwa, “the first FinnoBaltic shop”, to readers. According to the article, Pajwa aims to ”collect and systematize archaeological, cultural, historical and ethnographic material of Balts and Finns, two ancient neighbors and the greatest ethnos of East Europe”. (Merjamaa 8 April 2013.) Moreover, the
”Our fundamental goal is not business. The principal aim is to – tell people about the ancient culture of their ancestors. Therefore, we tried to make prices maximally low. The pricing policy of ”PAJWA” aims to make prices comfortable and reasonable for everyone who is interested in his own ancestors`heritage.” (ibid.)
According to Jakobson, Mersiyanova and Efremov, the Russian legislation does not require nonprofit organisations to have a board of trustees. Moreover, it does not mention limits of liability for such a board. It is mandatory for organisations to report of their work to governmental bodies, but preparing public reports is voluntary. Jakobson, Mersiyanova and Efremov point out that more than a quarter of those organisations which present reports of their work do not include any information on financial sources. Organisations working on culture and recreation report on financial sources least often. (Jakobson, Mersiyanova, Efremov 2012, p. 8, 10.)
It is plausible to assume that the income which is received by selling products through the Pajwa shop is only used to cover the production costs. However, a fundraising method like this requires great accountability from activists. Therefore, like Jakobson, Mersiyanova and Efremov point out, when talking about abuse or misconduct inside a nonprofit, ”not only legal infringement is implied, but also disregard for its mission, and self-interested behavior”. Thus, the temptation to transform a non-profit organisation into a for-profit one is curbed by the leader`s personal accountability to his conscience and his colleagues. (ibid., p. 12.)
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