Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tatarstan’s Latest Defeats Arose from Kazan’s Efforts to Form a Political Nation in Tatarstan, Iskhakov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Guided by the ideas of Kazan historian Rafael Khakimov who served as Mintimir Shaymiyev’s political advisor, the government of Tatarstan from the early 1990s sought to create a political nation of all the residents of the republic rather than one based on and called to defend the Tatars as an ethnic nation, Damir Iskhakov says.

            That strategy seemed to many then and even now to be the only one that would allow for the development of a civil society there, but that view was mistaken and has now led to Kazan’s defeat on language rights and the power-sharing agreement without guaranteeing the rise of a civil society, Iskhakov continues (

            In the second part of his lengthy article on “The End of ‘the Fourth Tatar Revolution” -- for a discussion of the first, see – Iskhakov analyzes Khakimov’s ideas which he sees as the source of the recent defeats.

            In 1993, he writes, Khakimov published a small book, “Twilight of the Empire: On the Question of the Nation and State,” in which the scholar defined the nation as “citizens united in a state formation independent of their ethnic origin,” an idea that made the state rather than the people the primary moving force in the definition of identity.

            Khakimov’s argument was sharply criticized by French political scientist Jean-Robert Raviot at the time for its failure to make the nation primary and preexistent to the state. (See the latter’s “Territoire et ethnicité au Tatarstan: une ancienne république autonome soviétique en quête d'une identit” in Archives Europeennes De Sociologie, 1993.)
            “When Khakimov asserted that the successful functioning of the republic and its self-determination can be guaranteed only ‘by offering Russianss the very same rights given to the Tatars,’” Ikhlov continues, “he avoided a discussion … of the fundamental question” about how a nation arises and finds expression in the world.

            And consequently, the historian continues, Khakimov, “the ideologue of the ‘Tatarstan’ nation like his political chiefs … did not in fact have an idea about the role of the ethnno-cultural factor in the formation of the state.” That remains the case, Ikhlov says, as can be seen from Kazan’s handling of language issues and its capitulation to Moscow on them.

            In 1995, Ikhlov recalls, he published an essay “The Tatarstan Model, For and Against” (Panorama-Forum, nos. 1-2) in which he sharply criticized Khakimov’s position and insisted that “it is not the state that makes a population into a nation but rather culture unifies them into a national community which then forms a state.”

                He continued that “Tatarstan had not been able to become ‘a nation’ entirely distinguished from the Russian precisely because our cultural space is not separated from its all-Russian characteristics and thus the republic can be build only on an ethnic basis,” exactly the opposite to the policies Kazan has been pursuing.

            What the republic government should do, he suggested in 1995 and reiterates now, is to recognize that it must find ways to support both the entire population of the republic and the titular nation, something that might have been done by creating a bicameral legislature in which ethnic groups were represented by quota in one and the population by numbers in the other.

            By so doing, Ikhlov argues, Tatars and Russians would have equal rights “on the political level,” but “on the ethno-cultural ome, the Tatars could aspire to certain particular rights since Tatarstan for all the Tatar community is the only place in the world where the national culture of the Tatars as an ehtno-nation is being fully realized.”

            What this means, he says, is that there must be “a conscious delimitation of the political and ethnic aspects of the ‘Tatarstan’ nation.”  But that idea was rejected by the Kazan Kremlin which instead pursued a policy to reduce to a minimum the “ethnic” expression of “’the nations’ of Tatarstanis,” Tatars and Russians alike.

            “It is no secret that the Tatars in Rusisan live in a Russian ethnic world and have the closest ties with Rusisans,” Ikhlov continues. There is influence in the opposite direction, of course, “but it is much less.” And so Tatars must recognize what is going on in the Russian nation, something they have signally failed to do.

            At the end of Soviet times, the non-Russian peoples “awoke” before the ethnic Russians did, and the Russians experienced the loss of empire much more negatively than did those of other nations.  They felt denigrated and at a loss. But gradually, they began to reassert themselves with a kind of “Orthodox-Russian fundamentalism” in opposition to liberalism.

            They wanted “red meat” and they looked around at the non-Russians to get it, Iskhakov says.

            The Putin regime clearly feels this development and with its language and federal policies is playing to it both for electoral purposes and to distract attention from the failure of the Kremlin to reconstitute what it calls “the Russian world” abroad by lording it over “alien groups” within the Russian Federation.

            “But what has been taking place with the Tatars” over the course of the last two decades?  After a growth in national enthusiasm in the late 1980s and 1990s, the unofficial groups that had promoted this first stabilized and declined; and the republic government took over this part of life and imposed its an agenda intended to avoid accusations from Moscow of nationalism.

            But Tatars in the population continued to put pressure on their government to do something for them, and the Kazan Kremlin responded by in ways that were neither well-thought-out, consistent, or adequately funded. As a result, the republic regime offended both Tatars and Russians as well especially in the sphere of language and education.

            What is happening now is the inglorious collapse of Kazan’s policies which simultaneously did not recognize that Russians were becoming more nationalistic and that Tatars were becoming more restive and that the republic government needed to address both in a consistent way rather than waiting for Moscow to intervene as it now has.

            It is already the case that 20 percent of Tatars consider Russian their native language, and “no more than a third know their native language” sufficiently well to use it freely. At the same time, however, Kazan’s educational experiments, including a language test in the ninth grade only infuriated the Russians and Russian speakers.

            Both sides of this equation must be addressed, but Kazan has done neither in an adequate fashion, thus almost inviting Moscow to intervene as it has and setting the stage for a time when Tatarstan may be replaced by a Russian “gubernia” of one kind or another, the dissident Tatar historian argues.

            That “apocalyptic” future can be avoided if the Tatars make use of their most important resource. They are “part of the Turkic-Muslim world and traditionally are oriented toward monotheism, have a strong moral basis, and are capable of opposing let us say ‘petty jinns’” that threat to lead them into oblivion.

            Both Tatars and Russians must be made aware that the attack on the Tatar language and thus on the Tatar people “is the beginning of other disturbing processes at the level of our entire big Motherland. Therefore, salvation within Tatarstan alone is impossible, even though our task is right.”

            “We must in the future act at the level and in the interests of all Russia and even Euraisa, hand in hand, with genuine Russian patriots.” Tatars must be clever recognizing the threats first of all to the Tatars but then to everyone else as well, and they must also recognize that those guilty of what has happened are in the apparatus of the president of Tatarstan.

                Once these things are recognized, Ikhlov concludes, the Tatars and their allies can get on with the increasingly difficult task of saving their republic and their nation.

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