Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Islam, Nationality Come Together in Fight over Titular Languages in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – The Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan has a new mission, Mufti Kamil Samigullin says, the preservation of the Tatar language and the national identity of Tatars,” highlighting the fusion of religion and ethnicity in the fight over languages Vladimir Putin ignited by moving to end obligatory instruction in all languages except Russian.

            Especially in the Soviet period and to a lesser extent in post-Soviet Russia, Moscow has done what it could to make sure that religion and ethnicity are cross-cutting rather that mutually re-enforcing factors.  That is because any such combination can be far harder to control than one in which the two can be played against one another.

            At a press conference yesterday, the mufti of Tatarstan gave the clearest indication yet that the two factors are now coming together there. Samifullin said his main tasks now are “the rebirth of the spiritual heritage of the Tatars and the training of a national intelligentsia” (

            The MSD of Tatarstan, he said, “cannot carry out its activity while ignoring these fundamental tasks.” And he pointed out that after Putin banned the required study of Tatar in the schools of the republic, his religious organization launched “free courses for the study of Tatar for all who wanted to study it.”

            On the one hand, Tatarstan is a special case. Mullahs from that nation filled most of the leadership positions in mosques across the Russian Federation before 1991. In fact, the mosques in Moscow were often referred to as “Tatar mosques” and conducted services in many cases in Tatar.

            But on the other hand, the mufti’s declaration is significant both for Tatars and for Moscow. For Tatars, it is an indication that Muslims are now going to support their fight for their national language; and for Moscow, it is a sign that Islam and nationality can come together even in the Middle Volga if the central government makes the kind of missteps Putin has.

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