Monday, February 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Is There a Kazan Khanate in Russia’s Future?

Paul Goble

            February 4 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that the borders of the federal subjects should be changed and that national republics should be renamed in administrative rather than ethnic terms is prompting some in the Middle Volga to ask “whether there will be a Kazan khanate in Russia” in the future.

            That question posed last Thursday by the “Ioshkar-Ola” newspaper in the Mari El Republic is just one of the dangers that any talk about redrawing borders or renaming regions within the Russian Federation can entail, especially when one focuses on larger or wealthier non-Russian areas (

            That paper asked two scholars, historian Andrey Tatyanchikov from Kazan and political scientist Valery Golubyev of Ioshkar-Ola.  There answers are interesting as a reflection of thinking in the Middle Volga, but it is that their answers are less important politically than the fact that this question is being posed and answered in ways Moscow may not like.

            Tatyanchikov says that in his view, Putin’s comments mean that Moscow will promote “the enlargement of [some] regions without changing their borders, given that no one needs that, and the fusion of small regions, which are not economically self-sufficient, with donor regions” that presumably are.

            Obviously, Moscow cannot do anything without consulting with the national republics, and “judging by the reaction of Tatarstan, one must talk about this now” or to assume that at some point there might be “a single republic in the Middle Volga Federal District” because “alongside are Chuvashia, Mari El, Mordvinia, Udmurtia …”

            According to the Kazan historian, “there are objective reasons for at a minimum two major territorial formations to appear in the Middle Volga Federal District: One could join Bashkortotstan and Udmurtia to the Urals … and as a second subject, of course, Tatarstan, Mari El, probably, Chuvashia and Ulyanovsk Oblast.”

            That second new federal subject would be “in the borders of the former Kazan gubernia” of tsarist times. As for what it should be called, Tatyanchikov continues, “it would be necessary to consult with the national republics.”

            The Tatar historian says that he doesn’t want to denigrate “the little Mari El Republic, to which I feel a sincere sympathy, or Ulyanovsk Oblast.”  But historically things have arranged themselves that “the center of this kray has always been Kazan,” for both political and economic reasons.

            The Tatar ASSR “was an invention of Soviet times,” he says, while Tatarstan has a much longer history and “greater chances for the future, whether one calls it the Kazan khanate as it was prior to the Russian conquest in the sixteenth century or the Kazan gubernia as it was in tsarist times.

            Golubyev of Mari El takes a very different position. He says that he is “against the expansion of regions because national formations must be preserve and the cultures of ht epeople must exist in all their multiplicity,” particularly when one is talking about “numerically small peoples because their traditions, customs and cultural values are at times unique.”

            It is “completely incorrect” to use terms like “’great people’” or “’great peoples’” and set them against others. “There are [simply] numerous and numerically small peoples.” The cultures of the latter are now “dying” and “losing their uniqueness.” Combining them in larger units would simply accelerate that process.

            “I think,” he says, “that the fusion of regions for the Mari El Republic would bring more harm than good.”

            That is true even if one considers regional amalgamation only from an economic point of view, Golubyev continue, adding that  “Residents of donor regions will be against [amalgamation] because they will sense a worsening of their position,” although he suggests that  such regions “must not think only about themselves.”

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