Thursday, November 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Separatism Both Natural and Inevitable, Kazan Editor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – Current calls to introduce legal sanctions against anyone who calls for separatism in the Russian Federation reflect a misreading of why the Soviet Union fell apart and how separatist demands are not only inevitable but entirely natural, according to Rashit Akhmetov, editor of the independent “Zvezda Povolzhya.”
            In a lead article yesterday, Akhmetov argues that few in Moscow appear to understand their own history or that of other peoples.  Instead, they uncritically accept the notion that Lenin’s creation of the non-Russian republics put a delayed action mine under their country and led to the explosion of 1991 (

                Thus, the advocates of this interpretation say, the way to prevent the disintegration of the Russian Federation now is to abolish the republics and declare separatism illegal.  As a result, they believe, “separatism will die.”  But that is wrong on two counts: liquidation of the republics will spark demands for separatism, and banning separatism won’t make it go away.

The widely accepted “myth” about the end of the USSR is “very strange,” Akhmetov points out.  In fact, “the USSR was maintained by force and any forms of national self-organization with harshly controlled and suppressed without pity.”  When the population wanted freedom and Moscow couldn’t do that any longer, the Soviet Union disintegrated.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, “the national elites of the autonomous republics dreamed of becoming union republics; the national elites of the union republics dreamed of becoming independent.”  Earlier these dreams would have brought persecution as forms of “bourgeois nationalism.”  

“Today,” Akhmetov says, “North Korea is the mirror of what the USSR was. Hardly anyone wants to be a citizen [of that country] not even activists of the KPRF.”

The reason that the USSR came apart and that the Russian Federation will lies not in “the Leninist national-territorial divisions.” Instead, it reflects the fact that “every individual and every people wants to live free.” Thus, efforts by peoples to set up independent states are “analogous to the natural efforts of any family to live in its own apartment or home.”

“To declare” as some in Moscow are now doing “that it is much better for the family to live in a communal apartment than in its own home is absurd.”

Tatarstan and Bashskortostan would already be independent countries, as free and prosperous as Finland now is had Stalin not drawn “the so-called Orenburg corridor which cut off Bashkortostan from the Kazakh SSR,” Akhmetov says. But the Soviet dictator’s decision did nothing to end Tatar and Bashkir aspirations for freedom.

“If it weren’t for separatism, then there would not exist on the map of the world an entire range of states,” including the United States “which was the purest fruit of separatism,” or India, or Brazil. Moreover, how is one to evaluate Russia’s support for South Osetia and Abkhazia if separatism is wrong?

            Whatever the Russian government says, Akhmetov continues, “separatists and those struggling for the freedom of peoples in the world are equivalent, and one must not adopt an ostrich-like position. Instead, one needs an objective approach and not hysterical fear.”

            Russians need to acknowledge that the USSR lost the economic and political competition to the capitalist and free West. Totalitarianism may work during times of military conflict, but it cannot compete with free peoples.  Moreover, “a free and democratic Russia doesn’t need enemies,” whatever the Moscow media say.

            Moreover, Russians and others need to recognize that “peoples naturally develop, flourish and decline,” that there are “periods of passionate explosion.”  Separatism is the product of an “objective passionate impulse. This is a form of energy which must be used for good. It is the objective course of history.”

            “Today,” Akhmetov says, “the US is the fourth Rome; tomorrow, China will be the fifth Rome; and then India will be the sixth.” And as this process unfolds, it is critical that “the state machine must work for the little man” not just for the wealthy and powerful.

            “Tatars today are experiencing a passionate flowering.”  As a result, there is no force which could stop the movement of the Tatar people to the establishment of their own free state,”  one that will link itself with the European Union but will be vitally interested in maintaining good relations with Russia, something profitable for both.

            Just as Russians should not view Tatars as an enemy, so too Tatars should not view Russians as one.  There are many Russians who want the same thing Tatars do. Russian society is diverse, and it, and even its Orthodox Church, is diverse and includes a healthy and moral “wing” alongside “a reactionary, chauvinist and aggressive” one.

            The Russian government is pursuing a dangerous course at present. In the wake of the Biryulevo pogrom, it has been “playing with chauvinist attitudes” on the assumption that it will always be able to control them. “But if you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind,” and that ill wind will be capable of blowing the current occupants of the Kremlin away.

Indeed, the editor says, they may at some point want political asylum in an independent Tatarstan.

            “Sooner or later, Tatarstan will be ‘a subject of international law.’”  It is in everyone’s interest that this process be “civilized and peaceful” rather than violent.  Tatarstan “needs a great Russia, but a great Russia in the democratic and humanitarian sense rather than in the imperial and great-power one.”

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