Staunton, September 16 – Most people have interpreted Vladimir Putin’s attacks on non-Russian languages in general and on Tatar in Tatarstan in particular as a reflection of his centralizing and Russian nationalist agenda; but in fact, Ilshat Sayetov says, the struggle over languages in Tatarstan is first and foremost about power and about control of oil.
Why did Putin raise this issue now? the Kazan political scientist asks. He was gradually getting what he wanted from Kazan: no extension of the power-sharing agreement, the projected end of the title of republic president, and so on and didn’t need any public fight before the elections (idelreal.org/a/yazik-eto-pokazatel-suvereniteta-ilshat-saetov/28737289.html).
With time and with relatively little fuss, Sayetov says, the status of Tatarstan was going to be reduced; “and after the elections of the president of Russia, additional steps in the economic sphere could be taken.” So why now? The answer lies in the Russian economic crisis and the status of the oil industry.
Tatarstan, he points out, is “almost the only place in Russia where large oil and oil and gas processing enterprises are not [now] controlled by federal bureaucrats and oligarchs. This is a very importance resource, and in Russia, over the last several years, the economic ‘pie’ has been getting smaller.”
Putin and his team have been interested in gaining control of Tatarstan’s assets in this area; but their earlier attempts, the Kazan scholar points out, have been unsuccessful in large part because “the political weight of the republic” is too great for Moscow to move as fast and as far as it would like.
That becomes obvious if one considers the case of Bashkortostan where the power of the republic declined and then people around Putin in Moscow swooped in an took away its most important enterprises. All this, Sayetov says, explains why the language fight is occurring, why it is not simply about language, and thus why it is so fierce.
If Tatarstan loses on the language issue, many in the republic will take that as a sign of where things are heading; and Kazan will lose some of the base it now has. Given that Moscow may succeed in reducing Tatar language instruction, it is highly probable that in the near future there will be other and perhaps even more important changes as well.