- An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. The historic region of Mordoviya (or Mordvinia) was fully incorporated into Russia during the reign of Peter the Great. After the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil War, Moscow established an autonomous okrug in the region. Mordoviya became an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1934, an appellation the republic only abandoned in 1994. Mordoviya’s retention of its Soviet nomenclature longer than federal subjects of the Russian Federation was emblematic of the conservative nature of the republican leadership in the early 1990s.Mordoviya is a member of the Volga Federal District and the Volga-Vyatka Economic Region. It is surrounded by Chuvashiya, Ulyanovsk, Penza, Ryazan, and Nizhny Novgorod. Mordoviya includes part of the Volga River basin; it is divided between forests and steppe lands. In the west, the Oka-Don Plain is the defining geographic feature; the Volga Highlands dominate the republic’s eastern landscape. The regional capital is Saransk (pop. 304,000), located at the confluence of the Saranka and Insar rivers. The republic is one of Russia’s smaller regions, covering only 26,200 square kilometers. The population of 889,000 inhabitants is divided between ethnic Russians (61 percent), Mordvins (32 percent), Tatars (5 percent), and others (2 percent). While Mordoviya is the ethnic homeland of the Mordvins, only about a third of the nationality resides in the republic. The republic’s official languages are Russian, Erzya, and Moksha, the latter two being languages of the Finno-Ugric indigenous population. Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant faith of the region, with the Tatars representing a small Muslim minority. The regional economy is focused on woodworking, mechanical engineering, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and agriculture (animal products, grains, sugar beets, and vegetables). Mordoviya is the center of Russia’s luminescence industry; major companies include Saranskkabel (fiber optics), Elektrovypryamitel (power converters), Lisma-KETZ (halogen lamp), and Orbita (integrated circuits). As the site of numerous medicinal springs and a unique cultural heritage, the region is also a tourist site for Russians and foreign visitors. With a focus on innovative products that can compete in global markets, the regional economy has proved stable since independence, and continues to grow.The head of the regional government since 1995, Nikolay Merkushkin, an ethnic Mokshan Mordvin, is close to Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, a relationship that has produced economic dividends for the republic. An engineer by training, Merkushkin began his career in politics as the head of the republic’s Komsomol youth organization before assuming control of the state property committee. Originally a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Merkushkin joined the Agrarian Party in the 1990s before opting for Luzhkov’s Fatherland—All Russia bloc at the end of the decade. In 1998, he ran virtually unopposed after disqualifying his major rivals from participating in the poll. Rarely taking on Moscow during the Yeltsin administration, he proved to be one of the most loyal republican governors. In fact, many Russians in the regional leadership backed devolution of republican sovereignty and the creation of Saransk Oblast, including the eradication of the special cultural rights of the Mordvins.While Merkushkin was a rather docile vassal of Boris Yeltsin, he did oppose Vladimir Putin’s plans to centralize decision making by implementing the system of federal districts in 2000. Despite such criticism, he was reappointed by Putin in 2005. In recent years, freedom of the press in the republic has sunk to new lows, even by Russian standards. However, Merkushkin remains popular among parliamentarians and the general populace.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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