Staunton, July 23 – At the end of Gorbachev’s times, the greatest fear in Western capitals was that the Soviet Union would, in the words of US Secretary of State James Baker, become “a Yugoslavia with nukes,” that is, a country that would fall apart in a series of violent spasms that would likely draw in other powers.
The nations that then lay within the borders of the USSR and the world at large were remarkably fortunate that, thanks to the restraint of most in Moscow and the statesmanship of most non-Russian leaders and Western officials, such a horrific outcome did not occur and that the demise of the Soviet Union was relatively non-violent.
Tragically, the Russian Federation is now led by an openly revanchist president who has called for a revision of the 1991 settlement, shown his willingness to use force in pursuit of that goal and displayed the kind of arrogant contempt for the more than a quarter of the population of the Russian Federation which is not ethnically Russian.
Consequently, at a time when Vladimir Putin’s statements about the Russian language, the Russian nation and the supremacy over everything else of his power vertical, it is perhaps not surprising that some non-Russians are worried that the Kremlin leader is acting in ways that could make “a Yugoslav scenario” possible within the current borders of the Russian Federation.
One is Marat Kulsharipov, an historian at Bashkir State University in Ufa, who told RFE/RL’s Tatar Service that Putin’s latest comments about the Russian language are simply “the latest step in his efforts to establish a civic Russian nation” and that it is sad that a senior official should “succumb” to such notions (azatliq.org/a/28630082.html in Tatar; idelreal.org/a/reaction-tatarstana-na-slova-putina-o-russkom-yazike/28630471.html in Russian).
And he makes the following additional and disturbing point: “Russia [now] is going along the path of the former Yugoslavia, conducting a policy against the preservation of language, history and traditions of the non-Russian peoples. This is being done on the sly,” but nonetheless consistently and thus dangerously.
Just how explosive the situation may be thanks to Putin’s insensitive chauvinism is shown by the comments of two senior figures in Tatarstan, which suggest that Kazan is in no mood prepared to back down in the face of Putin’s drive, and by those of Sakha parliamentarian which underscores how other non-Russians are viewing the current Moscow-Kazan clash.
Tatarstan’s education minister Engel Fttakhov declared that “In Tatarstan, Tatar is the state language for everyone. This is written black on white in our Constitution. We are actin in the framework of the law. A consensus has been achieved. [Our] educational programs correspond to federal standards.”
And Rafael Khakimov, former advisor to former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev and currently vice president of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, was even more pointed: “Tatarstan has its own constitution and its own law on state languages … the Supreme Court of Russia … recognizes this as absolutely lawful.”
“In order to exclude instruction in Tatar, it would be necessary to change the [Tatarstan] Constitution,” the academician said. “We hope things will not go that far.”
Meanwhile, Ivan Shamayev, a Sakha parliamentarian, told RFE/RL’s Tatar Service that Putin’s comments on language instruction were directed “above all at Tatarstan. It turns out that only in that republic does instruction of the national language remain [a requirement]. If Tatarstan will be able to respond to this pressure in a worthy manner, we will applaud, standing.”
“In the national republics, instruction in state languages should be obligatory,” Shamayev said. “But de facto, for a long time already, this has not been the case in all republics. [What Putin said] is what he really wants. The national republics will be forced to bear the burden of preserving their own languages by themselves.”
And he continued, “In the Komi republic, Komi isn’t taught; in Buryatia, the same thing is true and these languages are at risk of disappearing. But in Tatarstan, the situation is different. It provides an example to many. I hope that the republics will defend their national rights.”