Soviet Union gets very own Mary Land

October 23, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Move over, Maryland, U.S.A.

Make room for Maryland, Russia.

Yesterday, in the spirit of the times, the Marisky Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic up and declared its sovereignty, taking on a new name: the Republic of Mary Land.

This jurisdiction of 750,000 people occupies a territory a little smaller than the other Maryland, on the left bank of the Volga River in the middle of the Russian Federation. It has to date been one of 16 "autonomous" republics within the giant "union" republic, the Russian Federation.

But yesterday, the little-known entity joined what President Mikhail S. Gorbachev recently referred to as the "parade of sovereignty."

Nearly all the "union" republics, including the Russian Federation in May, already have declared their sovereignty, placing their own laws above Soviet laws. Now a number of the autonomous republics within Russia have followed suit, asserting their rights in relation to the Russian Federation.

Yesterday, the parliament of the Marisky republic, meeting in the capital, Yoshkar Ola, joined the trend. It voted to remain in the Russian Federation but to lay exclusive claim on behalf of local residents to all the land, water and natural wealth on its territory, the official news agency Tass reported.

The deputies renamed their homeland the Republic of Mary El, or Mary Land.

Just under half the population of Mary Land belongs to the Mary ethnic group, whose language is from the family that includes Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. Most of the other half are Russians.

The Mary nationality took shape between the fifth and 10th centuries in the heavily forested land between the Volga and the Vetluga rivers on the west and the Vyatka on the east. The Mary were absorbed by the growing Russian state in 1551-1552, paying tribute to the czarist government but managing to preserve their language and culture.

The new Mary Land has had a low profile in the Soviet press, minding its own business, which is primarily agriculture. In 1986 there was a scandal involving embezzlement of Communist Party dues; in 1988 the local party boss was scolded for lagging in the fight against crime; in 1989 some ethnic Mary objected to territorial claims by their neighbors in Tataria.

Tass did not mention if the new republic's sovereignty will extend to the establishment of direct foreign ties. If so, surely Annapolis will find a suitable residence for His Excellency, the Ambassador from Mary Land.

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