Staunton, February 26 – Many of the leaders of national movements in the Russian Federation, who first rose to prominence at the end of Soviet times, are now aging and wondering whether they will be able to attract a new generation to their cause or whether the rising generations will follow an entirely different course.
It is all too easy to forget that those who were in their 30s and 40s when these national movements emerged under Gorbachev are now in their 60s and 70s and that many who were even older at the end of the 1980s are still older now, with an increasing fraction no longer actively engaged in public life or even having passed from the scene.
That reality was very much on view this past weekend when the leaders of the All-Tatar Social Center, better known by its initial VTOTs, met to discuss not only the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s but the prospects of their movement and of Tatar nationalism more generally in the future (business-gazeta.ru/article/414684).
In reporting on the six-hour Sunday session, Kazan’s Business-Gazeta notes that “the overwhelmingly majority of the  delegates were people of advanced age … [while] one could count the number of young people on one’s fingers.”
Nailya Nabiullina, a former president of the Azatlyk Tatar Youth Union, says that “this is not an indication that the next generation is indifferent to the fate of the nation: it simply is under more serious pressure” and thus does not display its feelings as the older generation did and does in Tatarstan. “People today prefer to work in the shadows,” she says.
“Not all the stars of the national movement remain in its ranks,” Business-Gazeta reports. Marat Mulyukov, the first president of VTOTs, is dead. Rafis Kashapov currently is in London exile. But one of the most prominent early leaders is still very much around and active, Fauziya Bayramova.
She told the Kazan media outlet that it is important to remember what VTOTs represented and what it has achieved: It was the first Tatar meeting in “more than 70 years” if one doesn’t count the kurultai in Germany in 1944 where the Idel-Ural legionnaires assembled briefly.
More than that, Bayramova continues, it was the first such national meeting in decades for many peoples of the Soviet Union. “Not one of the people living in the Soviet Union had conducted such congresses. Not the Ukrainians, not the Balts, no one. All saw their national life become active only after us.”
VTOTs laid the foundation for Tatarstan’s declaration of state sovereignty, and it opened the way to the building of mosques and Tatar schools, as well as recovering the national spirit of the Tatars. It did not achieve all its goals, and after some victories, it began to retreat. But after any growth, there is always a fallback. “Now we are experiencing that,” she says.
Many are saying that the Tatar national movement’s time has passed, but Bayramov says that may Allah grant that that is not the case. “The very same nation, the very same people, the very same ideas mean we will rise again.” The Tatars have not exhausted their potential as a people and will not lose that chance.
Among the other speakers to the group was historian Damir Iskhakov who made two important points: First, he said, Tatars must “increase the Islamic factor in the national movement.” And second, the Tatars must join together with other national movements to defend federalism.
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