Staunton, December 9 – Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov says that Kazan no longer intends to seek a new power-sharing accord with Moscow because republic leaders “understand that times have changed” and that Tatars must “forget all their grievances” and support of the re-election of Vladimir Putin (kommersant.ru/gallery/3488607).
Minnikhanov’s statement is remarkable in that the Tatars from the 1990s on had viewed that power-sharing treaty a kind of birth certificate and equally as an affirmation that its approach to relations with Moscow, given that like Chechnya, it did not sign the Russian federation agreement, was the correct one.
Now, that era is over with unpredictable consequences for the future; and in the first of a two-part article about what may lie head after Putin’s new language policies and the end of the power-sharing accord, Damir Iskhakov, a major ideologue of the national movement there, even speaks of “the end of ‘the fourth Tatar revolution’” (business-gazeta.ru/article/366452).
According to Iskhakov, Putin’s action with regard to language (and the underlying power-sharing accord to which that issue is related) are “far from legal” and are likely to have consequences that will “seriously undermine the unity of the peoples of the Russian Federation” and thus “constitute a threat to the future of the country.”
As a result, he says, and despite Minnikhanov’s concession, the next few years in Tatarstan are unlikely to be “peaceful.”
“As can be seen with the unaided eye,” the activist continues, “the ruling elite of the republic has not completely taken into account the situation in which Tatarstan and the Tatar people now find themselves.” In fact, both are confronted by “the complete collapse of the political project” Kazan has pursued since the late 1980s.
That project was based on the idea of achieving a political compromise between Tatars and ethnic Russians so as to form “a non-ethnic ‘Tatarstan’ nation.” The main ideologue of that idea was Rafael Khakimov, the historian who served as the advisor to former president Mintimiye Shaymiyev, reflecting Tatarstan’s desire to become a union republic.
Only by uniting the two peoples or at least avoiding taking steps that could alienate completely one or another could Kazan hope to achieve that goal; but now that “model” is at an end – and both Tatars and ethnic Russians are retreating into their respective national camps, whatever Moscow or the Kazan kremlin may think.
Iskhakov says that evidence of that is all around. He notes that he recently heard a bus driver tell an older Tatar woman to stop speaking Tatar and use Russian instead because, the driver indicated, “the Tatar language has already been prohibited,” an indication of the way ordinary Russians view the situation after Putin’s intervention.
Comments like that were typical in the 1970s and early 1980s, the theorist says; but they became rare after Kazan began its pursuit of a pan-Tatarstan identity. And Iskhakov says that the current president is right to say that “we have really gone backwards, but we have gone much further backwards than he thinks.”
The focus of political struggles at the end of the 20th century in Tatarstan has been about the statue of Tatar, something “directly connected with the issue of the political statue of Tatarstan. And here is why.” On the one hand, it reflected Kazan’s desire to elevate Tatarstan to the status of a union republic. And on the other, it was consistent with Tatar history.
“The state status of the Tatar language was not political innovation – it was established in the constitution of the predecessor of the Tatar ASSR, the Idel-Ural state, and then in the constitutional act of Soviet times, [Moscow’s] decree” on the Tatar ASSR of June 25, 1921. In a draft republic constitution, Kazan referred to two state languages but Moscow didn’t agree.
For a long time after that, Iskhakov says, Tatarstan didn’t have a state language because autonomous republics didn’t in the Soviet system. “But in the course of the constitutional reforms of the Brezhnev period, languages of particular peoples of ‘autonomous’ republics again acquired state status along with Russian.”
“It is indicative,” he says, “that in the process of developing the USSR Constitution in 1977 [the Tatars] prepared a parallel proposal about the transformation of the Tatar ASSR into a union republic and even wrote a draft Constitution with that desired status taken into account.” When Moscow rejected that idea, nationalist attitudes grew.
According to Iskhakov, “all this ended with the disintegration of the USSR.” And yet the Tatars continued a similar strategy of keeping the Tatars and ethnic Russians united, first to gain a sizeable positive vote in the referendum of 1992 and then to ensure that this balance was enshrined and made permanent in the 1994 power-sharing treaty.
That is the “external side” of all these processes, but the “interior” side was even more important because it reflected the achievement after much effort of a compromise between the Tatars and the ethnic Russians by ensuring that the two had equal status as state languages in the Republic of Tatarstan.
It may not be wrong to note that “in the first variant of the Declaration about State Sovereignty of Tatarstan (1990), only one language – Tatar – was mentioned. But in that case one must keep in mind that the USSR still existed and Tatarstan was seeking to become a union republic.” All other union republics had the language of their titular nationality as a state language, and Tatarstan wanted no more and no less than that.
“Nevertheless,” Iskhakov continues, “as a result of complicated compromises – and then, believe me, as a participant of that time there existed genuine democracy and real political parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle – in the final version of the document just named there appeared the formula” of the equality of Tatar and Russian languages as in 1921.
“On the one hand, this was a return to the situation of early ‘autonomous’ Tatarstan; but on the other, it was a path to the future, a guarantee of the equal coexistence of the two chief ethnic components of the republic. True, this was still only a declaration about a certain political future,” but it guided Kazan throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
And this course represented “a striving to form on the basis of parity nationalism, a ‘Tatarstan’ nation.” Tatarstan stood out in making this choice: many other non-Russian republics chose a more ethnocratic approach. Now, perhaps, Tatarstan will be driven in the same direction, whatever Moscow or Kazan may assume.
If that happens, the consequences for the Tatars, the Russians and for the Russian Federation could be both radical and incalculable in their native impact.