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In Search of Merjamaa. 2. Literature review


Some studies have already been written about the neo-Meryan movement. D. A. Kaunov (2017) approaches the movement as an aspiration towards one`s own ethnic past. According to Kaunov, the tendency towards a new ethnic-cultural identity in the spirit of the Finno-Ugric world can be observed in ancient Finno-Ugric peoples` historical territories. A distinctive feature of this pursuit is an attempt of returning vanished elements of cultural memory into the sphere of modern culture. (Kaunov 2017, pp. 82 – 83.)

Similarily, P. A. Skrylnikov in his study considers Meryan identity as an intellectual reconstruction which hardly relies on an indigenous Meryan tradition. Instead, Russian people`s culutral heritage lays the foundation on which a new Meryan identity is constructed. Skrylnikov distinguishes three dimensions in the Meryan movement. The first of them, a local dimension, has to do with Meryan people`s historical territories whereas the second, a religious dimension, is manifested in attempts of revitalizing ancient Meryan religion. The third dimension, an ethno-futuristic art project, is about trying to adapt the activists` vision of the Meryan heritage into the modern world. (Skrylnikov 2016, p. 101.)

Timur O. Galkin in his study (Galkin 2013) approaches the neo-Meryan movement as a regional phenomenon in which identity is searched through the culture and beliefs of Central Russia`s lost tribes. According to Galkin, the question is about ”an emerging new vector of the regional worldview”. Galkin also observes a similar process of deconsolidation elsewhere in Russia and Europe. However, Galkin warns to consider neo-Meryan activism as separatism. Instead, the search of a new identity through lost tribes is a symptom of “a deep system crisis”. The Russian people has become tired to ”the imperial mission” which has been maintained for five hundred years. This explains the pursuit of going back to roots. (Galkin 2013, pp. 264 – 265, 267.)


A. E. Leontyev provides an interesting approach to Meryans in early historical sources. Leontyev observes the context of the Getica, the first historical source on Meryans written by the Byzantine historian Jordanes in the middle of the 6th century. The work includes a list of tribes among which `Merens´ (Meryans) are mentioned. Leontyev pays attention to the fact that Jordanes puts Meryans before the Mordva, an another Finno-Ugric people, in his list. In other words, Jordanes locates Meryans to an area which is further south than the one mentioned by later Russian chronicles. This indicates that Jordanes may have referred to Meryans` original home in the western bank of the Oka river. According to Leontyev, Russian chronicles were written more than hundred years after Jordanes` time, and they locate Meryans to the area of Nero and Pleschevo lakes. This may be a result of a Meryan migration to an area which is more suitable for agriculture. (Leontyev 1996, pp. 19, 21.)

In her article (Ahlqvist 1992) Arja Ahlqvist approaches the Finno-Ugric substrate in the toponyms of Yaroslavl Region. According to Ahlqvist, Central Russia and a part of Northern Russia were inhabited by Finno-Ugric peoples before the arrival of Slavic population. The current Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Ivanovo oblasts were inhabited by Meryans, and there were also Meryans in Vladimir and Moscow oblasts. A Finno-Ugric influence can be observed in the dialects and toponyms of Central and Northern Russia. Ahlqvist points out that there is no certainty about the pace at which Meryans assimilated into Slavs from the 10th century onwards. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of substrate toponyms requires prolonged and ongoing contacts between indigenous inhabitants and settlers. (ibid., pp. 1 - 2, 4.)

In his work O. B. Tkachenko approaches Meryan language. According to Tkachenko, the problems in the reconstruction of the Meryan lexicon have to do with the definition of boundaries between Meryan and other Finno-ugric words. Tkachenko points out that it is doubtful whether a lexeme belongs to an indigenous Meryan lexicon or to the set of loan words received from an another language relative. Moreover, a lexeme may be a result of an another Finno-Ugric people`s migration to the areas inhabited by Meryans. In this case, the lexeme does not belong to the Meryan lexicon at all. (Tkachenko 2007, p. 89.)


Ethno-futurism is the ideological background of neo-Meryan thought. Lena Gottelier describes the expansion of ethno-futurism in her article (Gottelier 2017). According to Gottelier, ethno-futurism proliferated from Estonia to the areas of small Finno-Ugric nations of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, the movement became diversified and localized, and it modified itself to suit different purposes. Along Gottelier, ethno-futurism is against ethno-preterism which considers certain cultural forms as original and which aims to conserve them in their ”genuine” form. (ibid., pp. 25 – 26.)

Elvira Kolcheva, for her part, observes ethno-futurism from the perspective of archetypes. According to Kolcheva, cultural archetypes are an ethnic-national phenomenon. The reactualization of ethnicity is an important tendency in the post-Soviet situation. Thus, actualizing a cultural archetype is about incorporating cultural habits into new historical realities. By doing so, it is also possible to project the future. According to Kolcheva, this is ”the deep sociocultural idea of artistic processes”, and it can be observed in Finno-Ugric ethno-futurism (Kolcheva 2015, pp. 255, 257.)

The research literature of this study includes two articles about the current situation in Russian cultural life. E. V. Savenko`s article deals with samizdat, ”an unregistered, selfimposed, non-commercial periodical press with a small circulation” (Savenko 2016, p. 89). Lev Jakobson, Elena Koushtanina and Boris Rudnik, for their part, deal with the Russian nonprofit cultural sector in their article (Jakobson, Koushtanina, Rudnik 2000). These articles provide a framework for the observation of the neo-Meryan movement as a form of cultural philanthropy. Moreover, Ildikó Lehtinen`s article on Finno-Ugrism as a social representation (Lehtinen 2008) helps to set the events organized by neo-Meryan activists in the context of ethno-futurism.


Local studies constitute an important field of neo-Meryan voluntary activity. The movement applies methods and practices which are similar with those applied by local studies activists elsewhere in the world. Therefore, going through an appropriate body of literature on local studies is necessary.

Peter H. Reid and Caroline Macafee give a good overview on local studies as voluntary activity (Reid, Macafee 2007). According to Reid and Macafee, local history has always tended to be the pursuit of educated amateurs whereas professional historians or sociologists  find the local interesting only within a larger context. However, as society becomes more individualistic, people want to pursue their own investigations, and the entry of ordinary people into history democratizes the subject. (ibid., pp. 127 – 128.)

According to Reid and Macafee, three factors constitute ”a tripartite paradigm of local studies”: the intricacy of the sources, the complexity of the investigations, and the enthusiasm of the users”. Therefore, librarians and archivists are ”the gatekeepers to local history”, because they have a role in encouraging good practice in research. (ibid., pp. 128 – 129.)

This theme is also present in John Mac Ritchie`s article on local studies blogging (Mac Ritchie 2012). According to Mac Ritchie, a weblog is one of local studies librarian`s most effective tools. Namely, it enables to make significant and even worldwide of what for a long time was ”kept locked up in filing cabinets or display cases”. (ibid., p. 89.)

There are several ways of approaching the local environment. In their article (2012) Michael P. Marino and Margaret Smith Crocco introduce four of them. The article introduces a fourstep model for analyzing a community as a historical resource. According to Marino and Smith Crocco, the first step is to look for the events that happened in the community. The second step is to identify the particular themes which are appropriate to understanding a community`s history. The third step is to concentrate on the people who have settled within a particular community whereas the fourth step is to look at the buildings as documents offering an insight into history. (ibid., p. 233 – 237.)

D. S. Lihachev`s article `Local Studies as Science and as an Activity´ served as a manifesto for Russian and Soviet local studies activists for a long time. According to Lihachev, local studies are a comprehensive science which combine in itself information on natural sciences, history and art research. However, local studies require a caring attitude towards the research subject, and as such they serve as ”a patriotic activity aiming to raise the intellectual level of home region”. According to Lihachev, local studies do not have two separate levels for specialists and the general public. Local studies only exist when the general public understands them and takes part in them. (Lihachev 2007, p. 159 – 160.)


The existing research on Russian grassroot civil society organisations set the framework of this study. Laura A. Henry` s article on Russian grassroot green organisations is especially important. According to Henry, “a narrow assessment of environmental organizations` relative strength or weakness along the standard criteria for civil society development overlooks an increasingly diverse sector of green activism”. The total number of Russian environmental organisations, their geographical dispersal throughout the country and their increasing professionalism indicate the development of “a vibrant sector within civil society”. (Henry 2006 a, p. 211.)

According to Henry, grassroot leaders rely on like-minded networks of family, friends, colleagues or parents in order to carry out their programs. Most of these groups are not membership-based. They do not rely on membership fees, and recruiting new members is not crucial for them. Grassroot organisations carry out environmental education programs, but they also engage in other local projects. Henry points out that the projects sponsored by these organisations have a ”largely apolitical nature”. Thus, ”an effort to resolve local problems through practical activism” is a common feature of grassroot groups. (ibid., pp. 214, 218 – 219.)

In her article `Shaping Social Activism in Post-Soviet Russia: Leadership, Organizational Diversity, and Innovation´ (Henry 2006b) Laura A. Henry pays attention to the resources provided to Russian environmental organisations. Due to the impoverishment of citizens and a lack of charitable giving in Russia, society does not significantly fund environmental movement organisations. Therefore, according to Henry, organisational leaders “seek resource providers and allies who possess a worldview or logic of appropriateness similar to their own”. Henry points out that grassroots environmental leaders commonly mention “enthusiasm and optimism” as their greatest resources. (ibid., pp. 100, 104, 106, 114.) Henry`s article helps to approach the financial preconditions of neo-Meryan activity.

To be continued http://www.merjamaa.ru/index/in_search_of_merjamaa_data_and_methods/0-46

The contents http://www.merjamaa.ru/index/in_search_of_merjamaa_aapo_kihlanki/0-43


мерянский Павел Травкин чашечник меря финно-угры чудь весь Merjamaa Меряния финно-угорский субстрат вепсы История Руси меряне суздаль владимир история марийцы мари Ветлуга Ростов Великий ростов новгород Русь экология славяне топонимика кострома КРИВИЧИ русские Язычество камень следовик синий камень камень чашечник сакральные камни этнофутуризм археология мурома Владимиро-Суздальская земля мерянский язык ономастика Ростовская земля балты финны городище Векса озеро Неро краеведение православие священные камни этнография святой источник общество Плёс дьяковцы Ивановская область регионализм культура идентитет искусство плес ингрия антропология россия москва ярославль мифология вологда лингвистика Марий Эл будущее Унжа вятичи Залесье волга поэзия нея галич деревня туризм север мерянский этнофутуризм Древняя Русь шаманизм латвия русский север иваново буй капище Ярославская область Языкознание реконструкция скандинавы средневековье Европа магия Этногенез коми старообрядцы Костромская область христианство