Sunday, June 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘De-Russification’ of Tatarstan Said Threatening Moscow’s Hold on Republic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – Ethnic Russians form a declining share of the population of Tatarstan and of officialdom in that Middle Volga republic, developments that some Russians say reflect the growth of Islam and Tatar nationalism and that they believe will ultimately threaten Moscow’s ability to retain control there.

            On Friday, Rostislav Antonov argued in an article that “the Russian movements of Tatarstan assert that the Russian population there is being discriminated against but the republic authorities say that the rights of the ethnic Russian minority are being reliably protected (

            During the last decades of Soviet power, ethnic Russians and Tatars formed approximately equal shares of the population, but “since the end of the 1980s, this balance was violated in favor of ‘the titular nation’” with Tatars now forming 53.15 percent of the population and ethnic Russians only 39.65 percent,” Antonov says.

            Given that fertility rates in the two nations there are “practically the same,” he continues, this shift reflects an outflow of ethnic Russians driven by the rise of Islam and Tatar nationalism. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of ethnic Russians declined by 73.992, while the number of Tatars rose by 247,167.
            One measure of the growth of Islam is the number of mosques.  In 1989, there were 15 mosques in Tatarstan; now there are “more than 1500,” in addition to which there is the Russian Islamic University, three other Muslim higher schools and 10 medressahs. But the number of Orthodox churches “does not exceed 150.”

            As a result, Antonov calculates, in Tatarstan today, there is one mosque for every 1340 potential parishioners, while there is one Orthodox church for every 10,000 ethnic Russians.

            The decline of ethnic Russians in the population has been paralleled by a decline in the share that ethnic Russians form in the leading positions in the republic government.  A 2003 study ( found that 80 percent of Tatarstan’s political elite consisted of ethnic Tatars, vastly greater than their share in the population.

            Antonov replicated that study recently by examining the ethnic background of 150 Tatarstan officials. He found that 99 of these were Tatars while only 51 were ethnic Russians. But most of the latter were concentrated in lower level jobs: Among mid-level officials, ethnic Russians “did not exceed 22 percent” and among the top ones, “not more than 10 percent.”

            The writer concludes that over the last decade “the share of Russian administrators [in Tatarstan] in the middle and higher ranks has continued to fall.” He adds that a similar situation holds in the sphere of education, with only one of the eight rectors of the Kazan Federal University being an ethnic Russian.

            Asked in 2010 why there were so few ethnic Russians in the top jobs, Farid Mukhametshin, the chairman of the republic’s State Council, said that “we need professionals. Among ethnic Russians, they are lacking.”  

            But perhaps the clearest reason for Russian flight, the analyst continues, is the decline in the role of the Russian language in Tatarstan schools. In contrast to ethnic Russian areas, where the schools devote 1200 hours to the study of Russian over the first ten years of schooling, pupils in Tatarstan, Tatar and ethnic Russian alike, study that language only 700.

            Many Tatar parents would like to see this change, Antonov says, because they know that their children need Russian to pass state examinations and to make a career in the Russian Federation. But Kazan remains committed to the idea that “the Russian population of Tatarstan must master Tatar but not Russian.”

            Given that many analysts have concluded that the Soviet Union disintegrated when the non-Russians approached 50 percent of its population, some are suggesting that Russian flight from Tatarstan could have the same effect.  Rais Suleymanov, the head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research, is one of them.

            At the end of May, he said that “if all the ethnic Russians leave [that] republic, Russian statehood will leave it as well.”  Separatist attitudes will grow, and “the country will fall apart.” In that event, Suleymanov suggested, the fate of Tatarstan will be “approximately that of the fate of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan” (

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