Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tatarstan Loses Another Mark of Sovereignty: No More Tatar Inserts in Passports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Ever since the nationality line was dropped from Russian documents two decades ago, non-Russians have sought other means to distinguish themselves officially by nationality. One of the most cherished has been the insertion of a nationality page in Russian passports in the language and with the symbols of particular republics.

            Moscow has opposed these inserts as unnecessary, except in the case of the numerically small peoples of the North where the central government is all too happy to use them to ensure that others do not get the special benefits that members of these relatively small groups receive from the government.

            But despite Moscow’s opposition, three republics – Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Sakha – have succeeded in inserting these special pages, and many in these national republics view them as symbolically important and even as the first step toward a higher status (

            In 2016, Kazan issued more than 15,000 such inserts and not long ago announced plans to purchase more blanks so that it could issue them in the coming year. But now, quietly and without explanation, the government of Tatarstan has ended the program (

            The explanation seems to be that Moscow has forced Kazan to end the program, thus taking away from Tatarstan yet another mark of the sovereignty that it is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. And just as with Moscow’s moves recently, the Kazan authorities have caved without making a fuss.

            Some Tatars are trying to put the best face they can on the situation, insisting that this retreat is not a retreat. But Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov, a Tatar activist, says that their suggestions that the inserts no longer have any meaning are wrong. By not having an insert, Kazan is showing that Tatarstan “does not have the right to call itself a state.”

            And there is yet another reason why the insert was and is important, he says. In the Russian passports, the names of people are transliterated or otherwise transformed into Russian and Russian patronymic forms. Only the inserts had the name in the national language. Now, that defense of the nation has been surrendered, he says. 

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