Staunton, February 24 – Following the Bolshevik revolution, Stalin promoted the formation of non-Russian republics in Muslim regions of his country less because he wanted the nations they represented to flourish than because he was convinced that such individual nations could become a bulwark against the rise of Islam and thus a combined Muslim threat to Moscow.
Now, Vladimir Putin is unwittingly reversing this process, attacking non-Russian nations and their languages. And not surprisingly, this is contributing to exactly what Stalin was clever enough to avoid and at a time when the spread of Islam and even more of Islamist ideas may constitute a larger threat to the central government than they did in the 1920s.
Putin’s readiness to support Chechnya in its land grab against Ingushetia not only sparked continuing protests in that republic but also opened the way for an increasingly independent Muslim leadership to play a far larger role in opposition to the civil authoriteisthan it had played in decades ( ).
Now, something potentially far more fateful is taking place in Tatarstan where Moscow is seeking to weaken not only that Middle Volga republic but to undermine the unity of the Tatar nation ( and ).
In the short term, this attack on Turkic peoples within the current borders of the Russian Federation may open the way for pan-Turkism, another threat Stalin successfully opposed by creating the non-Russian republics and a danger that the Kremlin at least appears to recognize it has to respond to ( ).
But a new announcement by the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Republic of Tatarstan shows that something else is happening, at least in part because of Moscow’s attacks on the Tatars and Tatarstan: a new drive to promote Islamic values as central to the identity of the Tatars and of Tatarstan.
The leadership of The atarstan MSD says that the draft Strategy for the Development of the Tatar People “devotes insufficient attention to Islam, which is one of the main factors for the preservation of Tatar national identity ( and ).
“Our main goal,” Rafik Mukhametshin, the deputy mufti of the republic, says, “is to involve religious organizations in the task of preserving national self-consciousness. At present, in the regions of the country, Tatar schools are being closed, but mosques remain open,” at least in part because of Putin’s “optimization” programs.
Dzhalil Fadyyev, the chief kady of Tatarstan, adds that there are currently about 5,000 Tatar schools in the villages; but there number is declining. And in many places without a Tatar school, there is still a mosque making that institution more central to the survival not only of the Tatar language but the Tatar nation.
“We say that the village preserves the nation, and therefore, particular attention must be devoted to the status of the Tatar mosque and also to the problems for the creation of favorable conditions for the work of rural imam,” the kady continues.
And Fadyyev joined with other members of the MSD leadership in insisting that “it is impossible to unite the Tatar nation only around its native language,” especially given that “its knowledge and use is severely limited.”
Thus, it appears that if Putin gets his way and closes still more Tatar schools, the mosque and Islam will become more important in a region where many have always assumed the mosque and Islam will be less so – and so the Kremlin leader will recreate or even exacerbate a problem Stalin worked hard to solve.