The Mari are a Volga-Finnic people who have traditionally lived along the Volga and Kama rivers in Russia. They call themselves mari. They live in three ethnic units: Hill Maris, Meadow Maris and Eastern Maris. The first two of them have also literary languages, Meadow Mari being also used by the Eastern Maris. Earlier official name for them is Cheremis(s). The Republic of Mari (23,000 sq. km., capital city Yoshkar-Ola) is located at the middle course of the Volga river in the basins of the rivers Vyatka and Vetluga. 52% of the Maris live outside the Mari Republic: in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and in the provinces of Kirov and Yekaterinburg.
The Maris are the only Finno-Ugric nation in Russia whose population has increased steadily, in spite of the slight decrease in the use of their native language. The Maris have retained their language better than any other Finno-Ugric nation. The percentage of Maris living in the Mari administrative territory and the proportion of the Maris in the population of the Mari Republic have remained relatively unchanging.
In the 2002 Russian census, 604,298 people identified themselves as "Mari," with 18,515 of those specifying that they were Mountain Mari and 56,119 as Eastern Mari. Almost 60% of Mari lived in rural areas.
The past has not been kind to the Maris. They have lived under the subjection of foreign powers ever since the 6th century (551 Ostrogoths, 7th century Bolgars, 1236 Mongols-Tatars, 1552 Russians). Coming under the Russian sphere of influence has proved fatal.
2nd half of the 16th c – defensive battles of the Maris, in the Russian history known as “Cheremiss wars” (1552-1557, 1572-1574, 1581-1584) ended in defeat and, as a chronicler has said, “the marshes, lakes and rivers were filled with the bones of the Maris and the earth saturated with their blood.” Many Maris resettled in the eastward territories, Russian colonisation started;
18th c – the migration of Maris continues under the increased ideological pressure exercised by the Russians (extensive conversion to Orthodoxy). The Mari national territory is divided among the provinces of Kazan, Vyatka and Nizhni Novgorod;
1905-1907 – national awakening of the Maris;
1920 – formation of the Mari Autonomous Province;
1930s – collectivisation and mass repressions, most of the Mari intellectuals are exterminated;
1950s – the rise of a new wave of Russian industrialisation and colonisation;
1960s – rapid decline in the use of Mari language in the community use, Mari language becomes a mere “language of our own village”.
The Maris have shown their initiative and spirit after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 1989 the legal national political movement Mari Ushem (Mari Union) was (re-)established, as well as the political party Ushem; the Mari Congress and its elected Council represent the whole Mari nation.