Friday, May 2, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars an Inspiration and Model for Non-Russians in Russia, Chuvash Journal Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 2—The Crimean Tatars today are an inspiration and model for the non-Russians of the Russian Federation because they simultaneously defend the fundamental rights of their own nation and insist that they are part of the Ukrainian state, according to a Chuvash journal.

            “Looking at that energy with which the Crimean Tatars as before insist on their choice,” “Syltan Havat” says, “you involuntarily compare them with the non-Russian peoples of Russia” who clearly do not have the same “universal consolidating force” even though there are “all the preconditions” for its development (

            The obvious reasons it does not exist are because the Russian state “doesn’t allow it” and because “the reality surrounding us by itself works against us.” The mentality of every indigenous people of Russia has been profoundly affected by and “levelled” by the Russianness promoted by Moscow.

            “The ‘correction’ of [the original and underlying] mentality for the ethnic Russians involves only the modification of their culture, [but] for the remaining indigenous peoples of Russia [it threatens and requires] their complete disappearance,” the Chuvash journals explains.

            This Russian mentality is “already so deeply rooted in our consciousness” that “beaking with it is not only complicated but also painful.”  It has become “customary,” and not surprisingly “people choose a cheaper and more easily accessible type of self-identification – an ersatz nationality,” which “is mutating into a [non-ethnic] Russian surrogate.”

            Such commonality is maintained only “by enormous efforts” because “the natural self-consciousness laid down in us by nature unconsciously seeks to arrange everything in correspondence with those initial intentions.” Thus, it is ready for “re-awakening” despite Russian efforts to suppress it.

            There is no reason for this “struggle with nature” or for Russian mediation between and among the non-Russian peoples as Moscow insists. Instead, the non-Russians can and must come together as a group both because of their common interests and because they share many things which set them apart from the Russians who have tried to wipe out their national distinctiveness.

                At present, ethnic Russians increasingly show that they want to “live in isolation” from others.  The only proper response, the journal says, is that “we, together with the other small peoples of Russia and in the first instance the Turkic and Finno-Ugric ones form a single spiritual organism separate from the ethnic Russian one.”

            The peoples of Volga Bulgaria show this can be done. “Our peoples for several centuries existed without the mediation of ‘the elder brother,’ and did not experience any problems in interacting with each other.” There was not a single war or other serious conflict, and “then as now we lived in one state based on mutual respect and not one in which one culture and tradition was forced on anybody else.”

            At the present time, the journal continues, what the non-Russians face is “the imposition of the ethnic Russian and non-ethnic Russian cultural code” with its “striving toward the complete unification of the peoples populating Russia and the unitarization of Russia.” Unless the non-Russians combine in opposition, “Russian culture will swallow up all the remaining cultures of the indigenous peoples of Russia.”

            “In nation states as a rule, nationalism is equated to patriotism, and at present, Russia is moving “along the path toward a nation state.”  As that happens, “Russian nationalism in Russia will be converted into patriotism, and the nationalism of the non-Russian peoples will automatically become hostile to the Russia state and as a result, illegal.”

            The Chuvash, the journal continues, are seeking “equality of Chuvash and Russian cultures in all spheres of social life.”  This is “not xenophobia, fascism or chauvinism, but an elementary demand based on fundamental international legal norms.”

            “But the government understands that if it were to introduce this elementary equality ... the natural [that is, the original national identities] would take the upper hand over the artificial [identity that Moscow has promoted and that so many Russians and non-Russians currently accept.]”

            “Why do the Crimean Tatars stand on Ukraine’s side?” the journal asks rhetorically. “Because in that country, their national cultural requirements are not denigrated but realized on the basis of guarantees.”  That is what Russia should be doing and not trying to restore a system based on the notion of a Russian “elder brother” with all the non-Russians being “junior” ones.

            This argument is important for at least three reasons. First, it shows the way in which many non-Russians in Russia are viewing Ukrainian events not through a Russian lens but through a Crimean Tatar one, selecting out of the flow of events there that which is most important to themselves.

            Second, this argument matters because it suggests that at least some of them see Ukraine’s approach as one that Russia should follow and that of the Crimean Tatars as a model for themselves, yet another way that Putin’s intervention in Ukraine is having blowback in the Russian Federation itself.

            And third and most important, the Chuvash call for cooperation or even unity among non-Russians in the face of Russian nationalist assertiveness is Moscow’s greatest fear, given that Russian state policy now as in the past has been based on the ancient principle of “divide and rule.”

            Of course, achieving such cooperation will be difficult, and it may never go beyond the regional level such as the Middle Volga or the North Caucasus.  But even that will make Moscow’s current management of the country far more difficult, forcing the center to make concessions or possibly face a new round of disintegration.

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