2013 Winner: Surviving on the Interface

Project Information
Surviving on the Interface
History senior thesis
This thesis seeks to explore the roots of the post-Soviet relationship between two small kindred Finno-Ugric peoples, the Estonians and the Maris. It posits that the real basis of this relationship lies less in modern historical factors than in the pool of common experience that the Estonians and Maris share by being situated on a great interface between two civilizations – the Estonians on the national interface between German and Russian civilizations as well as the religious interface between western Christianity and Orthodox Christianity, and the Maris on the national interface between Tatar and Russian civilizations and the religious interface between Christianity and Islam. This thesis attempts to offer a thorough and specific explanation as to how being situated on such an interface has increased the luck and opportunities for these two small people to avoid assimilating into the larger civilizations they have been in contact with and survive into modernity with their unique language and culture still intact. It is argued that being in contact with a merchant civilization (which tend to be characterized by tolerant, peaceable values) increased their prospects for survival. In order to put these small peoples in their greater context, the histories of five peoples are examined – Germans, Estonians, Russians, Maris and Tatars. The conclusion argues that, in the case of the Maris, being on this interface might be their best hope against the latest threat of assimilation in the centralizing age of Vladimir Putin’s presidency and that the Estonians’ relationship with the Maris could offer the key to making use of the opportunities that are opened up by being situated on this interface.
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  • Kristoffer Hellen (Cowell)