Monday, March 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Tatars See No Future for Themselves in Putin’s Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 24 – Vladimir Putin’s transformation of Russia into a totalitarian, militarist and chauvinist state mean that the Kazan Tatars can see no future for themselves in that country as long as he is its president and is carrying out such policies, according to a declaration of the Millli Mejlis of the Kazan Tatar nation.

            Because of Putin’s actions in Crimea which reflect his double standards on self-determination and his oppression of the non-Russian and non-Orthodox population of the Russian Federation, the parallel national parliament of that republic says that Tatarstan must leave Russia “in order to preserve our nation, language and religion.”

            The Kazan Tatars are the second largest nationality in the Russian Federation with some six million people, and they are situated in the oil and gas rich Middle Volga through which all of Moscow’s transportation and communication links pass between European Russia and Siberia and the Far East.  Their disaffection after Crimea thus constitutes a major problem for Moscow.

            In an appeal , the Milli Mejlis in a declaration distributed by email yesterday declared that Putin’s actions in Crimea have created “a new situation” in “the international geopolitical space” and that development in turn has forced the Kazan Tatars to recall the March 1992 referendum in their homeland. (  

            In that vote, the declaration says, 61.4 percent of the population voted for the independence of Tatarstan. International observers did not find any violations in the way the voting was carried out and said that it was in full correspondence with “all international norms” and fully legitimate.

            But “Russia did not recognize the results of this referendum,” the declaration, which is signed by Fausziya Bayramova, the president of the Milli Mejis of the Tatar People, notes. Even before the referendum took place, Moscow made all kinds of threats and put pressure on Kazan. The republic’s leadership conceded, but the people voted as they did.

            Now, 22 years later, the situation is more serious. “Russia is being transformed into a totalitarian, militarist and extremely chauvinist state,” it says. “Despite its multi-national population, the Russian state has put as its task to make all of its citizens into [ethnic] Russians and Russian speakers.”

            There is “open discrimination toward all non-Russian peoples national schools and newspapers re being closed, and the planned elimination of Muslims is being carried out. In such circumstances, we do not see a future for the Kazan Tatars in Russia.”

            In the course of its “annexation of Crimea by means of a false referendum,” the appeal continues, “Russia covered itself by making reference to the supposed oppression of ethnic Russians by the new authorities in Kyiv and frequently talked about double standards,” a reference to Kosovo.

             But it is Russia itself which is guilty of double standards, sometimes invoking the right of ethnic Russians to self-determination via referendum while denying that right to non-Russians like the Kazan Tatars.

            “Tatar national organizations express their categorical disagreement with Russia’s policy toward other peoples and Islam,” the appeal concludes, and that means that for the sake of survival, “we must leave Russia.”  To that end, they are appealing to the UN and the European Union to finally at long last recognize the results of the 1992 referendum.

            Were the international community to do so – and it could cite the same principles of international law with better justification than Moscow has been using – that would put enormous pressure on the Russian government because it would beyond any doubt spark a new growth of nationalism not only in the Middle Volga but across Russia.

            Quite obviously, that is unlikely to happen. On the one hand , many in the West will dismiss this appeal as the work of extremists, just as Moscow has done, even though it probably reflects the view of an even larger fraction of Kazan Tatars than the Crimean “referendum” did of that peninsula’s residents.

            And on the other, the spread of such movements for national-self determination and independence across Russia now frightens many just as it did when it occurred in the USSR in 1989-1991 – and that fear will be enough to keep the international community on the sidelines even as Russia in an Orwellian fashion declares that some peoples have the right to self-determination while others do not.


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