Tuesday, January 5, 2016

‘Will Tatarstan Do to the Russian Federation What Ukraine Did to the USSR?’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – Two ethnic Ukrainian commentators, one living in Kazan and the other in Kyiv, argue Tatarstan today is contributing to the disintegration of the Russian Federation in much the same way that Ukraine contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union 25 years ago.

What makes their arguments so interesting is that they reach a common conclusion but are diametrically opposed to the outcome they see, with Sergey Gupalo in Kazan viewing the disintegration of the Russian Federation as another stage in the tragedy of the end of the USSR and Oleg Shro welcoming it as ushering in a new era of freedom in at least part of Eurasia.

Gupalo, a communist in Kazan, writes in Forum-MSK.org that fate has so organized his life that it has been divided “between two small motherlands – Ukraine and Tatarstan” which he has always viewed as part of a larger one, the “illegally and unnaturally destroyed Soviet Union” (forum-msk.org/material/region/11295969.html).

He says that today, at the beginning of 2016, he “cannot separate himself from the sense of déjà vu, from an analogy with that interval of time between August and December 1991,” a time when he “lived and worked in Ukraine” and when everything then was pointing to the destruction of the USSR and, for him, unwelcome independence of Ukraine.

After August 1991, he continues, it was quite clear to him that “the song of the USSR had been sung” and that its demise had become inevitable. “Something analogous,” he says, he “feels now but already in relation to the Russian Federation when [he] watches the television appearance of the so-called elite of Tatarstan.”

Their “’sovereignty game,’” he suggests, is not just about “the secondary question about the preservation for the head of the region of the title ‘president.’ Ever more loudly are sounding voices about the need for a return to the former edition of Tatarstan’s constitution,” voices that are coming not just from nationalist activists but from the government itself.

The crisis in the Russian Federation, Gupalo says, has grown from “the economic into the political,” as is shown by the fact that with the transfer by Moscow of Rosneft structures to Grozny, there has been completed “de facto the formation of a Sovereign Ichkeria which only formally remains within the Russian Federation.”

These two developments and many others show that Russia “in fact has been converted into an asymmetrical federation,” if one wants to be “euphemistic,” but that in reality what is going on is “the continuing disintegration of the USSR but already in a new phase,” Gupalo argues.

And because that is so, the Ukrainian in Kazan says, he is not prepared to assert “with complete confidence” that the Russian Federation will exist another year.

Other reasons for his conclusion, Gupalo says, include the way in which law enforcement agencies in Tatarstan supposedly subordinate to the federal system have acted against Rais Suleymanov. His arrest and fine is enough to make one believe that specialist Islam’s arguments that Wahhabis “de fact control everything” in Tatarstan.

And he suggests that in addition, there is the passive response of the KPRF and other supposedly “healthy” forces to what is going on now – exactly the same thing that happened in 1991. If there were a real Leninist party, that would not be true, “but alas, there is still no such grouping in our region” ready to act.

If Gupalo, whose commentary is called “Will Tatarstan Do to the Russian Federation What Ukraine Did to the USSR?” is unhappy about that prospect, Oleg Shro, a Ukrainian in Kyiv is pleased and entitles his essay, “Russia on the Brink of a National Liberation War” (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Oleg_Shro/Rossiya-na-poroge-nacionalno-osvoboditelnoy-voyny-114433.html).

                Shro comes at the issue in an entirely different way. About 18 months ago, he made the acquaintance of Bolyaen Syres, an Erzyan activist known “’in the world’” as Aleksandr Bolkin who served in the Soviet and then Ukrainian army and has fought in defense of Ukrainian independence and sovereignty.

            Syres told him about the plans of the Erzyan national movement for the establishment of a nation state of its own, a movement little known by other than experts because the Erzyans are grouped together with the Moksha under the common official name “Mordvin” even though the two are very different.

            “The unification of these two peoples in the Russian Empire and then in the USSR under one let us say denigrating term occurred under the influence of imperial policies of assimilation which the Russian Empire began and the USSR continued,” largely on the basis of the notion that two peoples with similar languages could be treated as one, Shro writes.

            Both these peoples have a long history not only of competing with each other but of resisting Russian power, from the times of Pugachev to the present, the Ukrainian commentator continues.  And that makes what is going on in the Volga and Urals regions now so potentially significant.

            These two regions, Shro points out, “are characterized by an ethnically mixed population, even with the existence of nominal nation state formations, representatives of these peoples live throughout the Volga and Urals regions” and have done so for centuries. Many villages have representatives of seven or eight nations.

            Such ethnic and alongside it religious diversity has given many occasions for clashes, but it has also meant that at various points, different people have emerged who have set the tone for the others. Today, in many cases in these regions, the Republic of Tatarstan is doing just that.

            Not only did it acquire more concessions from Moscow than did Chechnya early on by quietly working behind the scenes, so too today, Kazan has shown that it “does not intend to sacrifice its sovereignty” and meet the Russian government’s demands that it break ties with Turkey or follow all the laws of the center.

            Consequently, “if in Tatarstan itself, all this will continue under the banners of a struggle for national independence, then in the Tatar enclaves throughout the entire Volga and Urals region,” it will acquire as “one of its main aspects the religious factor” given that Tatars formed local jamaats during the first decade of this century.

            That will allow the Tatars to “quickly assembly allies from other peoples [of the region] who profess Islam, such as the Bashkirs or those from among the Finno-Ugric peoples who have accepted Islam. This in its turn will create the basis for the appearance of places of resistance to the federal authorities not only in Tatarstan” but more broadly.

            As Syres points out and Shro reports, the Erzyans could not but be part of this process. “In fact, over recent years, they have created exactly the same form of society which historically was characteristic for Ukraine and which allowed the Maidan to win,” even though the Erzyans have faced even more genocides over a longer period than have the Ukrainians.

            “The programs of national rebirth have had their effect,” Shro points out, “by attracting people to the study of their native language, history, and culture.” And there is a reason for that success: “To a certain degree, the attention of the federal forces was disoriented by the fact that the Erzyans did not make open demands and did not give way to the radicals, let alone to terrorist methods in the national-liberation struggle.”

            The Erzyans have sowed the seeds so that “when the time comes,” they will be ready to flower.  And there are indications that that time is coming this year. 777 years ago, after three years of fighting Baty Khan, the ancestors of today’s Erzyans predicted that by staying united, they would achieve their goal of a separate state – in what will be 2016!

            According to Shro, there are “in general objective preconditions for this if a serious conflict between Tatarstan and the federal center begins,” one in which Bashkortostan will back Kazan as will Tatar, Bashkir, and “Islamic enclaves of the Middle Volga and the Urals,” including the Eryans.

            “All are now waiting for X hour…”

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