The closure of the only Mari comprehensive language school in the Perm area in Russia caused outrage among Mari speakers and linguists. Mari speakers viewed it as one of the many examples of discrimination that the community has been facing over time. Regional authorities decide to shut down the school and instead open a primary school in the same place. A number of Mari organizations such as Mari Ushem, Mer Kangash, International Consultative Committee and Fenno Ugria in Estonia protested the move. This is because closure of the school dealt a big blow to the revival efforts that were started in the 1990s to propagate the Mari language.
Mari is a Russian language that is spoken by about 500,000 people. It falls under the Uralic language of families. Mari is primarily spoken in the Mari Republic in the Russian Federation. It is also spoken in Papua New Guinea and Kazakhstan. Mari was declared an official language of the Mari Republic together with Russian and is currently being taught in over 200 schools. It is also an official language in Papua New Guinea. The language has 4 major dialects. This includes the Meadow dialect, the Mountain dialect, North Western dialect and the Eastern dialect. The Mountain and Meadow dialects are quite similar. The other names for Mari are Hop, Cheremiss, Dorro and Lugovo Mari. Most Mari speakers are bilingual, though trends show a gradual assimilation towards Russian as more people do not consider Mari as their first language. Mari is closely related to the Tais language. It is also related to the Aramba, Peremka, Bothar, Rauku and Nambu languages.
The Mari language is written using a modified Cyrillic alphabet. Speakers may have difficulty in reading the Low Mari dialect due to the lexical, phonological and morphological differences. The language is also used in schools, writing books, newspapers and TV programs. Most Mari live in rural areas. They are mainly agriculturalists and lumbermen. Christianity is the prevalent religion, with most Mari’s being members of the Russian Orthodox church and some Mari’s are Muslims. Traditional religion is still practiced. This includes the Mari pagan faith and the Marla faith, which is a combination of Christianity and traditional religion.