Mordovia or Mordovian Autonomous Republic. A Finno-Ugric enclave in the Russian Federation, covering 26,000 sq km and surrounded by Russian ethnic territory except on the side bordering the Chuvash Autonomous Republic. Its population (805,056 in 2018) is composed mostly of Russians (53.4 percent) and Mordvinians (40 percent).
Mordvinians, an ancient Finno-Ugric ethnic group, were first mentioned under the name ‘Mordens’ by the Gothic historian Jordanes in the 6th century AD. In the mid-13th century Mordovia fell to the Golden Horde, and in 1552 it was annexed by Ivan the Terrible along with the rest of the Kazan khanate. Under tsarist rule the Mordovians were deprived of political power and cultural self-expression. It was not until 1928 that the Mordovians as a nation received some degree of political recognition. The USSR government set up the Mordovian national okrug. In 1930 it was reorganized into the Mordovian autonomous oblast, and in 1934, into an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Formally, the Mordovian ASSR has all the attributes of national autonomy, but in reality the Russian majority determines the form and content of its culture. At the Mordovian State University, which has an enrollment of 4,480, most disciplines are taught in Russian. The dominant Soviet newspapers, Sovetskaia Mordovia and Molodoi leninets, were published in Russian. Newspapers published in the two Mordovian languages have limited editions.
The first labor camps in the republic originated after the October Revolution of 1917. At least eight Gulag camps (Barashevo, Sosnovka, Saransk, Ruzaevka, Lesnoi, Potma, Yavas, and Zubova Polianka) and a prison (Saransk) were located there. Since the Second World War many political prisoners, particularly Ukrainians, have served time in these camps.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]