Staunton, June 8 – “Tatarstan is something like Lithuania in the USSR,” the editor of the independent Tatarstan weekly, “Zvezda Povolzhya,” says, “and just as it is impossible to imagine Lithuania within a democratic Russia, so too it is impossible to imagine Tatarstan in a democratic Russia.”
Tatarstan, Rashit Akhmetov writes, “is a different culture; even Tatarstan’s Russians are special. They are distinguished from Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod Russians. In essence, a divorce awaits us either in a civilized form or in an uncivilized one,” although it is important it be “mutually profitable [and] that we remain friends” (zvezdapovolzhya.ru/obshestvo/printsipy-07-07-2013.html).
“It is [also] important,” the editor writes in an article entitled “Principles” published yesterday, “that the divorce be human, and from this point of view, it is undoubtedly the case that he Tatars must undertake obligations that the Russians living in Tatarstan will live much better than those in the rest of Russia.”
Despite all the zigs and zags of its course, Tatarstan’s development is moving in the direction of “real sovereignty,” and this will only strengthen over time regardless of the direction Russia takes. Indeed, Akhmetov says, one can put in the simplest terms: “If you push sovereignty out the door, it will come in the window.”
Citing Lev Gumilyev, the Kazan editor argues that Russian political culture is in decline while Tatar political culture is on the rise and that its “passionate rise will allow Tatarstan to break out ahead of other Russian regions.”
Stalin may have instinctively felt this when he deprived a seven million-strong people of “the status of a union republic” and thus left it in a much worse position than other peoples of the USSR.” Or he may have done so because of “psychological wounds from the mythical Tatar-Mongol yoke” which supposedly held Russia back.
But it wasn’t the yoke that produced Russian imperialism. That tradition came from Byzantium, Akhmetov argues. And as a result of that tradition, “Russia set itself up against Catholic, urban and university Europe with the help of Orthodoxy,” even though “Orthodoxy in Russia bore a largely pagan character.”
“The majority of Tatars want to live in the European political format,” the editor says, “and not in a Byzantine feudal one.” But Moscow even now “calls itself the third Rome and preserves Byzantinism, operating precisely on the attitudes of the majority of the state-forming people.”
“But if the Russians are the state-forming people, then they bear the greatest responsible for what kind of state has existed in Russia over the last 450 years and even more for the one which exists today,” Akhmetov continues. “Is this state attractive? Does it not in fact recall a prison zone? The Tatars do not want to live in that.”
They do not want to live in a state “which is not interested in human rights and which often forces people to live by lies, something against which the great Russian patriot Solzhenitsyn protested.”
In Akhmetov’s view, “Russia gave the world both great Russian literature and the GULAG. Its elections are totally falsified and only one percent protest that in Moscow.” Indeed, it is the case that many of the opposition figures are not in fact ethnic Russians. Isn’t that something that “the state-forming people are “ashamed” about?
“In general,” he writes, “one needs to devote attention to the fact that the non-state-forming peoples of Russia are spontaneously more democratic than the general mass of the state-forming people. Could it be perhaps because they are ore oppressed?”
The Tatars do not want to remain in the GULAG and they do not have the strength to “reform in a democratic direction all of Russia. That is a task for the Russian people itself.” If Russia does not become democratic, if it continues “along the ‘GULAG; path, then the Tatars have only one wise way out, that is to pursue independence.”
“Who in his right mind would want to live in a prison?” Akhmetov asks rhetorically, noting that “Putin calls the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical catastrophe but the remaining part of the USSR beyond the borders of Russia does not think so; for them it was a great day of liberation.”
If Russia continues to pursue an authoritarian course, the Tatars can hardly be expected to sit quietly and wait for “the appearance in Russia of a new Stalin,” given that “Stalin dreamed of resettled all the Tatars from Kazan and even prepared the trains to do so and to rename the Volga after him.” Again the Tatars have no choice but to pursue independence.
But if it should happen that Russia became “democratic approximately like Poland or the Czech Republic,” Akhmetov suggests, “then the divorce of Russia and Tatarstan is similarly inevitable” for economic, cultural and civilizational reasons.” To give but one example: Tatars are far more entrepreneurial than Russians, according to a Harvard study.
Some ethnic Russians in Kazan want to liquidate the Republic of Tatarstan and convert it into the Kazan gubernia to prevent such an outcome. But as “one wise man” pointed out, Akhmetov concludes, such people should compare their lives are in Tatarstan with those of their co-ethnics in Ulyanovsk or Kirov oblasts before pushing that idea further.