A week ago I returned from Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Republic of Mari El. I was there to work in the jury of Finno-Ugric theatre festival Majatuli 12.-19.11.2016 organised by Mari El National Shketan Drama Theatre. The jury had six members and we saw the festival performances and gave feedback to all participating theatres from various Russian republics like Mari El, Komi, Udmurtia, Mordovia, Khanty-Mansia and Karelia. The only “foreign” participant was Finnish Vapaa Vyöhyke -group (brackets because in Finno-Ugric context Finnish is not really foreign). Besides feedback the jury awarded six performances or individual artists with diplomas in the final celebration of the festival.
During my stay I learned some Russian and some Mari language and I think I made some friends. I was really happy to get to know all the members of the prestigious jury, the other lovely people working for the festival and to see all the performances. Some of them were awful, some were good and some I’d like to see visit Finland, or anywhere basically. What made a great impact on me is that besides artistic or entertainment values the performances at the festival had a larger cultural significance. Theatre is a place to keep Finno-Ugric languages alive. Theatre is a life line of identity. Of course theatre is about identity, one may say, but in Western consumer culture one tends to forget (or at least I forget) that identity can also be about belonging to a group and not just an individual thing.
I was also relieved to see Russia with my own eyes in the present new age of Cold War. It isn’t only what they tell you in the news. Russia is much, much more. I received a particularly warm welcome in Yoshkar-Ola and I want to go there again. But I did experience four fishy moments, though, that made me think hard… If you are a Finnish reader, you can read about these thoughts from my report in Esitys Magazine web page.