Monday, September 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Demographics in Non-Russian Republics Will Block Their Independence, Russian Nationalist Site Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Stalin’s first act of ethnic engineering, one that he and many others believe eliminated any chance that the Middle Volga could pursue independence, was to divide Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, surround both by ethnically Russian territories, and include significant ethnic Russian populations within them.

            But now apparently concerned that those arrangements may be insufficient, especially if the Russian Federation becomes a Russian nation state, a Russian nationalist site argues that patterns of ethnic settlement within these republics are such that they could not pursue independence without disintegrating ( and

            This research – and the site promises additional articles on the ethnic demography of other non-Russian republics in the future – is interesting not only because it shows the kind of studies that the 2010 all-Russian census makes possible but also because it unintentionally highlights Russian nervousness about the aspirations of these republics.

            Regarding Tatarstan, the Sinn-Fein-Front site begins with three oft-cited statistics: the small size of the Tatars relative to the population of the Russian Federation (3.72 percent), the small share of Tatars living in Tatarstan (23.7 percent), and the complicated ethnic mix within Tatarstan (with half of the population being Tatar but almost as many being ethnic Russians).

            And then it argues that most Tatars living outside the republic are well integrated into Russian life and have little interest in returning to their “historical Motherland.” Only Tatars already living there are characterized by what the site calls “aggressive Tatar nationalism” and far from all of them.

            But the most interesting data in the article are those concerning the ethnic composition of of Tatarstan’s regions as displayed in a series of maps.  Tatars are a minority in most of the parts of the republic and Tatarstan, as an ethnic entity, “is divided into three parts which are not connected with one another,” and thus, “the separation of Tatarstan from Russia is impossible.”

            The site provides a similar set of data for Bashkortostan and the Bashkirs.  It notes that only slightly more than half of the Bashkirs live in Bashkortostan, that they are outnumbered there by the Slavs (37 percent to 29.5 percent), and that they “dominate only in the south east and in a fragmentary way in the north.”

            Thus, the Sinn-Fein-Front page concludes “the establishment of a pure Bashkiria even on the territory of Bashkortostan is problematic.”  And it is made even more problematic, it asserts, because of the complicated relations of the Bashkirs with the Tatars – the site suggests their relationship is analogous to the Ukrainians and the Russians – and with the Finno-Ugrics.

            Therefore, the site concludes, “the risk of separatism is minimal” in Bashkortostan just as it is in Tatarstan.  Both republics, it continues, will be satisfied if they have significant cultural autonomy and local self-administration within a Russian nation state, something this Russian nationalist says no one can reasonably oppose.

            And consequently, the site says, those who think that “the transformation [of the Russian Federation] into an [ethnic] Russian state will automatically lead to the separation of the Middle Volga and Siberia and more generally to the reduction of Rus to the borders of Moscow oblast” are wrong.”

            Unfortunately for the Sinn-Fein-Front author, there are at least two reasons for thinking his argument is incomplete.  On the one hand, and as was obviously the case with the non-Russian union republics of the USSR in 1991, nationalist movements do not assume that the demographic situation they find themselves in is permanent.

            Some of them clearly pursued independence because they feared that they would be ethnically swamped by Russians if they did not, and others did so out of a belief that as independent countries, they would have the opportunity to change the demographic mix on their territories in the future.

            And on the other, if one uses the data provided by Sinn-Fein-Front but considers it in terms of ethnic Russian settlement patterns, those who argue for the elimination of the non-Russian republics through amalgamation like Vladimir Putin does or those who want a Russian nation state are up against the same problems that this page says the Tatars and Bashkirs are.

            Those areas in the Russian Federation which are ethnically Russian in the sense Sinn-Fein-Front suggests for the Tatars and Bashkirs are also disconnected one from another, and thus any effort to unite them in an ethnically Russian state could prove just as futile – and counterproductive – and this site says the non-Russians would find an analogous pursuit to be.

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