Saturday, November 24, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Chuvash Activists Want Parts of Neighboring Republics and Oblasts Transferred to Their Republic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Speculation that Moscow is planning a new round of regional amalgamation is generating demands that other borders within the Russian Federation be changed, just as Vladimir Putin’s previous efforts to combine smaller non-Russian republics with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions did during the first round five years ago.

            Both the potential “losers” in any such prospective transfers and Moscow are certain to oppose these moves, the latter because of the way in which such shifts of territory and population would decrease their power and ability to get federal subsidies and the former because of how this could disorder the economy and trigger uncontrolled activism from below.

            The most widely publicized of such efforts in recent months was Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s call for changing the borders between Ingushetia and his republic, an appeal that Moscow rejected noting that the Constitution requires mutual agreement. But Kadyrov’s suggestion was generally viewed as a reflection of his and his republic’s special status.

            More intriguing are similar claims being advanced by ethnic activists elsewhere, either on their own or with the possible covert support of the leaders of their federal subjects or even of Moscow, which may see this as a way to weaken those leaders or undermine efforts to promote cooperation among adjoining republics and oblasts.

            A case that could create all these problems and thus may reflect all these reasons is to be found in Chuvashia, a Christian Turkic republic in the Middle Volga.  Activists there have appealed to the head of the regional parliament to “initiative at the federal level a review of the borders of the republic” (

            The appeal, published this week, said that “the current borders of the Chuvash Republic, established in the 1920s, do not correspond to present-day realities.”  Consequently, to “correct this historical injustice,” it said, portions of Nizhni Novogor and Ulyanovsk oblast and of the republics of Tatarstan and Mari El need to be transferred to within its borders.

            Officials and experts in Mari El are already furious because the district the backs of the appeal want to be shifted to Chuvashia include the approaches to the bridge across the Chekorsak Hydro-Electric Station, an object which the appeal says of such “strategic importance” that it must not be part of the neighboring republic.
            Mari El experts have pointed out that “the theme of ‘historical justice’ in Russia is always quite complicated.”  Gennady Ayplatov, a historian at Mari State University, said that if one were to follow the logic of the appeal, then Chuvashia would also have to be given part of Kirov oblast.”  Clearly, he continued, “the Chuvash activists have chosen “a dangerous path.

            According to the appeal’s authors, however, they are not just seeking the righting of past wrongs but a means to promote “the general development” of Chuvashia.  But commentators there have noted that among the authors are nationalists who earlier and without success have “demanded the return of historical names” in place of those imposed during Soviet times.

            Pyotr Stolyarov, the head of the Mari El district that the Chuvash would like to absord, says that the whole idea is “completely absurd” and suggests that those behind it “have nothing better to do.”  But at the same time, he said that a more logical solution would be for “the northern part of Chuvashia to become part of Mari El, something he said no one was proposing.

            Stolyarov added that unnamed outsiders may be doing this to spark tensions among the adjoining regions and republics of the Middle Volga.  He does not mention Moscow or Russian officials, but they are the most likely candidates given the recent media campaigns against Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

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