Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tatarstan’s Efforts to Help Gagauz De-Russify Outrage Some in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 23 – In an article entitled “Incompetence or Betrayal? Gagauzia Learns to De-Russify from Tatarstan,” Ivan Shilov calls attention to and expresses outrage over the latest effort of the Kazan Tatars to provide leadership for fellow Turkic groups not only in Russia but in former Soviet republics like Moldova (

            The Regnum commentator is especially angry about Tatarstan’s role with the 100,000 Gagauz given than Moscow has long counted on this ethnically Turkic but predominantly Russian Orthodox and Russian-speaking group to bring pressure, along with Transdniestria on Chisinau.

            But his words also reflect the anger of many in the Russian capital about Tatarstan’s efforts to reach out to other Turkic groups not only inside the Russian Federation but across the entire post-Soviet space and its unwillingness to break ties with Turkey, despite Moscow’s insistence that Kazan do so.

            Indeed, some Russian writers are now pointing to Tatarstan as an example of Turkey’s successful use of “soft power” inside Russia and demanding that Moscow take a harder line against it, even though doing so could provoke a new rise of nationalism among the Tatars. (On this, see

            To some extent, Moscow has only itself to blame. Not only did it promote Tatarstan as a link and model for the Crimean Tatars after the annexation of that Ukrainian peninsula, but it has generally welcomed Kazan’s support for cultural activities in other Turkic republics in Russia (

            But Shilov’s article suggests that many in Moscow are outraged by cooperation between Kazan and Komrat and especially by the comments of participants in meetings between them in Kazan last week (, and

            According to Shilov, “the authorities of Gagauzia intend to study and introduce in the autonmy the experience of Tatarstan on ‘the preservation and development of native language’ and ‘the realization of bilingualism.’”

Rimma Ratnikova, head of Tatarstan’s State Council, told the Gagauz visitors that their two peoples have much in common because “at one and the same time we passed through the same historical path of the upsurge of national self-consciousness and the preservation of traditions, language and culture.”

The Gagauz leaders visiting Kazan, Shilov continues, were “particularly interested in the issue of the preservation and development of the native language.”  Gagauzia currently has three state languages – Russian, Gagauz and Moldovan – but government work is conducted almost exclusively in Russia. Some Gagauz would like to change that.

Shilov says that “practically 100 percent of the population” of Gagauzia speaks Russian, although he acknowledges that 92.3 percent of the Gagauz living in Moldova declared in the 2004 Moldovan census that they consider Gagauz their native language.

What is striking, he adds, is that the supposedly “’pro-Russian’” Gagauz leadership is suddenly promoting the Gagauz language at the expense of Russian and doing so with the help of the Tatars. In this, Shilov says, the Gagauz are pursuing precisely the line that “Russophobes from Chisinau” favor.

Indeed, the Regnum commentator notes, some in the Moldovan capital routinely criticize the Gagauz because they say that “the Gagauz autonomy is hardly ‘Gagauz’ given that people there speak Russian, educate their children in Russian and on the whole are oriented toward Russia.”

Shilov concludes his commentary by noting that Irina Vlakh, the bashkan (head) of Gagauzia was elected to that post “with the active support of the Kremlin and its ‘reliable’ Moldovan ‘partners’” and brought in many people from Chisinau to run things in Komrat.  Now, however, she or at least some of her subordinates appear prepared to go in a different direction  -- and with Tatarstan’s help.

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