Ethnic group. Mordvins are a composite nationality of the Russian Federation comprised of Erzyans and Mokshans, both being Finno-Ugrian peoples of the Volga basin. The description “Mordvin” is an exonym imposed on the Erzyans and Mokshans by the Russians; the term has been described as a “pseudo-ethnonym” by some nationalistic Mordvins, who prefer to be described separately from one another or, collectively, as Moksherzians.
   Both the Erzyan and Mokshan languages, along with Mari, form the Finno-Volgaic subgroup of the Uralic language family. The two Mordvinian languages are distinct, and speakers do not possess full mutual intelligibility. On these grounds, certain Mordvin nationalists (especially among the Erzyan community) argue that the two groups should be recognized as separate ethnic groups. There are cultural differences as well; the Erzyans came under Russian domination earlier than their Mokshan cousins, who lingered under Kazan Tatar rule, absorbing a greater level of Turkic influence. Erzyans are estimated to account for two-thirds of the Mordvin population, while Mokshans constitute one-third; however, Mokshans possess a slight demographic edge in Mordoviya. Mordvins generally espouse Russian Orthodoxy; however, shamanistic and animist elements still pervade their folkways.
   Collectively, Mordvins represent the fifth-largest indigenous national minority in the Russian Federation. Out of a total of 843,000 in the Russian Federation, only 284,000—roughly one-third of all Mordvins—reside in their ethnic homeland, Mordoviya. Significant numbers reside in the following regions: Samara (86,000), Penza (71,000), Orenburg (52,000), Ulyanovsk (50,000), Bashkortostan (26,000), Nizhny Novgorod (25,000), Tatarstan (23,000), and Moscow (23,000). Unlike most other nationalist movements among Russia’s ethnic minorities, most Mordvin organizations seek to promote policies that are confined not simply to the ethnic homeland, but to all of Russia (and the Soviet Union before it). Under perestroika and glasnost, the first major Mordvin organization was Mastorava (Mother Earth). The organization, led by writers and linguists, lobbied for a republican governor who was fluent in the Mordvinian language, petitioned for the right to draft laws, and sought controls on migration. Mastorava also had a strong ecological orientation and was supportive of Mordvins embracing Protestantism like their Finnish relatives. The organization lost influence after 1995, being replaced by the moderate Executive Committee of the Congress of the Mordvin People.
   During the mid-1990s, a more radical group, Erzyan Mastor (Erzyan Land), also emerged. Erzyan Mastor campaigned for a separate national homeland for the Erzyans within Mordoviya, as well as citizenship of the Mordvin Republic for all ethnic Mordvins, regardless of place of residence. The organization also eschewed Russian Orthodoxy as a tool of Russification, and embraced a politicized form of neo-paganism, which attempted to revive traditional Mordvin practices such as animal sacrifice, communing with the dead, and food blessing. Despite efforts at national revival, language loss and assimilation of Mordvins into Russian culture remain high.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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