Staunton, August 10 – Non-Russians face problems not only from the Russian state but in non-Russian republics where another nation is the titular nationality and they are not. These difficulties seldom attract the attention that Russian-Non-Russian issues do, but they are often even more intractable and politically explosive.
Paradoxically, the problems such groups face are often greater when they are closely related culturally and linguistically to the titular nationality because in such cases, the republic government is especially concerned to support its own nation against possible encroachment by another.
That is particularly the case with the Tatars who live in neighboring Bashkortostan and who have sought since Moscow divided the two peoples in 1920 to gain some special status for themselves there. Now that issue appears to be heating up; and it throws light on the larger and less attended to problem of the status of non-titular non-Russians in non-Russian republics.
This issue came into sharp focus this past week when a Tatar asked Vladimir Barabash, who is running for head of Bashkortostan whether he intended to give Tatar the status of a state language in the republic and Barabash replied with a question of his own: “What do you need that status for?”
Tatar commentator Ilnar Garifullin in an essay for Radio Liberty’s IdelReal portal provides an answer (idelreal.org/a/30101666.html). He says that Barabash’s answer is nothing new but reflects his failure to understand why Tatars have been asking for this status for 30 years, a status that would mean Tatar would be used in all spheres of life in the republic.
Those questioning Barabash should have asked as a follow up “why do Russians or Bashkirs need a state status for their language?” Because if there are reasons they should have it, those same reasons apply to the Tatars.
As Garifullin says, “Tatars are not fighting for something new but for the return to the Tatar language of the state status that it once had but that was then taken from it. Fighting for something new is one thing; returning a right illegally taken from you is an entirely different matter altogether.”
“Tatars have become the only one of the three largest state-forming ethnoses who haven’t been allowed to hold an all-national congress” in Bashkortostan. The World Kurultay of Bashkirs has taken place and the Assembly of Russians of Bashkortostan has as well. But the Tatars haven’t been allowed to do the same.”
The Tatars despite their numbers and despite paying taxes like anyone else are being treated like “second class” citizens, Garifullin continues. Worse, the authorities don’t feel the need to discuss things with them or include them in republic programs: there is no mention of the Tatars in the republic’s strategy documents about languages, for example.
No Ufa official is meeting with Tatars to discuss the lack of Tatar-language television in the republic, the lack of Tatar sections of theaters of various kinds, the lack of research institutes focusing on Tatar issue and the lack of up-to-date Tatar schools and gymnasia – or to talk about plans to close university departments that have been preparing Tatar language teachers.
“In the civilized world today, the observation of collective national rights is an inalienable attribute of the development of a democratic system just like all other civic rights and freedoms are,” Garifullin says. “Without this, one cannot call oneself a liberal or even a democrat and supporter of respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens.”
But what is worrisome he says, is that where these rights are not respected, “uncomfortable questions sooner or later arise at the most inconvenient moment” and in potentially explosive ways, the commentator says. The Tatars are an indigenous people of Bashkortostan, but they are also an irredenta – and the balance between these is not easy.
Times are changing, Garifullin says, and the Tatar “question” is again being asked. Depending on how Ufa responds to the language issue, it will be easily solved. But if Ufa ignores that, it is not likely that the Tatars will limit themselves to asking only about their language rights.