Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Scholar Says Oft-Cited Source on Extremism in Tatarstan Unreliable

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 26 – Tatyana Titova, a professor of ethnology and archeology at Kazan’s Volga Region Federal University, says in an open letter that both an oft-cited source on extremism in the Middle Volga and the Russian news agency that features his work should not be relied on.

            In “Zvezda Povolzhya,” Titova says that Rais Suleymanov, “who considers himself an expert on ethno-religious questions” and whose work as disseminated by the Regnum news agency is often used by outsiders writing about Tatarstan, has misrepresented her statements and those of others (

            Titova’s letter is worth noting not only because she is correcting the record concerning the way Suleymanov and Regnum have presented the situation in Tatarstan but also because this case highlights a problem people interested in areas of Russia outside of Moscow all too often face: they must rely on single sources whose reliability they sometimes cannot check or choose not report on developments in these regions at all.

            In her open letter, Titova recounts what happened after a conference held jointly by her chair and the Conservatory and National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan.  On November 30, she reports, she read a report about a presentation she had made on the site of the Regnum news agency that she was certain did not correspond to the facts.

            The ethnologist says that she has reason to believe that the author of that text was one of the participants of the conference, a man who considers himself an expert on ethno-religious issues in Tatarstan and a graduate of the history faculty of the Kazan (Volga Region) Federal University, Rais Suleymanov.

            In Suleymanov’s report as carried by Regnum, she continues, her “words about the results of an investigation [she] had conducted on the contemporary [ethnic] Russian population of Tatarstan were presented in an untrue and incorrect manner.”

            “In particular,” she sys, “words were ascribed to [her] suggesting that because of the lack of desire by the [ethnic] Russians of Tatarstan to study the Tatar language they supposedly were oriented toward participation in the protest movement and that ‘a way out of the existing situation a certain part of the Russians see in marriages with representatives of the titular nationality or in the adoption of Islam.”
            Further, in his statement on Regnum, Suleymanov “asserts that in correspondence with [her] data half of the [ethnic] Russian population is oriented toward departure from Tatarstan.”

            However, Titov insists, “all the words ascribed to [her] are a lie.” Her basic conclusion was that “the absolute majority” of the Russians who participated in the study connect the possibility of self-realization both for themselves personally and for their entire ethnic group as a whole with Tatarstan” and that the likelihood of conflicts with the Tatars is low.

            In short, Titova says, her works shows that “[ethnic] Russians in Tatarstan are not oriented toward the protest movement and [instead] connect their future with the republic.” In fact, “68.9 percent of the Russians have never encountered a situation” in which their national feelings were hurt and as a result “they feel comfortable in Tatarstan.”

            As for wanting to leave that republic, Titov says, “only 1.4 percent of the respondents [among the ethnic Russians she surveyed] chose that as the most suitable variant for the entire ethnic group.” But that important reality, she continues, “was not reflected in the publication!”
Such “an unethical attempt to use an academic report … for provocative goals” is infuriating, Titov adds, as “it is perfectly obvious that the goal of that publication was to ‘scientifically’ support the idea that the nationality policy of Tatarstan actively discriminates against the non-Tatar population” and is designed either to drive its members to leave or to assimilate to the Tatars.

            “However,” she points out, “all this is a lie which does not have any scientific basis.” But “unfortunately,” Titova continues, “this is far from the first example when scientific data are used” for political purposes. As an example, she cites another case when Regnum inaccurately cited a Kazan scholar about the supposed appearance of “Tajik enclaves” in the Tatarstan capital.

            Titova says that she has suggested to her colleagues that they should “be careful in cooperation and inviting to their events such activistsand participants as Rais Suleymanov and as much as possible [she] proposes to declare a boycott by scientific society” of someone who has shown himself to be “a provocateur.”

            In her view, the Kazan scholar says, “the actions of the Regnum information agency and f the people who provide such ‘news’ are discrediting the work of historians, sociologists, political scientists, ethnologists, Islamic specialists, andother social scientists and are directed toward the destabilization of the situation in the region and not toward the analysis of the real situation.”

Titova says she and her colleages have always observed this misuse of scholarship “in silence” and “for a sufficiently long time” but that the most recent examples mean that she “cannot fail to express her public disagreement and call foranend to the free interpretation of authors’ texts.”

            Titova is not the only one concerned about Regnum reporting.  On December 8, Interfax reported that “a highly placed source in the administration of the president of the Russian Federation” called journalists’ attention to “the frequent and crude distortion of reality by the Regnum agency in its assessments of the actions of Russia especially those involving the CIS” (

            The Kremlin source said that unfortunately, “for Regnum, not only the concealment of facts but their intentional distortion has become characteristic.” He added that the Kremlin “cannot prohibit this but feel compelled to warn users of this agency. And he recalled “the brief and extremely unsuccessful” period during which Regnum head’s Modest Kolerov worked in the Presidential Administration.

            In August 2012, Kolerov, who has been involved with Regnum in various senior capacities over the past decade,  was declared persona non grata in Latvia and, according to a “Kommersant” report, earlier had been blocked from entering Lithuania, Latvia, and Georgia because of his writing (

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