Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ever More Active Idel-Ural Movement Attracting Attention Regionally and Internationally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – Moscow has long dismissed the Idel-Ural movement as a figment of the imagination of Western Russophobes or as a revenant of a Nazi effort during World War II to set the peoples of the USSR against Moscow.  But that stance is becoming ever more difficult to sustain for two reasons.

            On the one hand, the Idel-Ural movement, which seeks to promote cooperation among and independence for the Turkic and Finno-Ugric nations between the Volga River and the Urals Mountains, is gaining ever more attention, at least in part because Moscow’s efforts to stop it by repressing and exiling its activists have backfired.

            And on the other hand, new research has shown that the image of the Idel-Ural movement as Nazi hirelings or as an absurd plot of Western governments – the US listed Idel-Ural among the Captive Nations in its 1959 Congressional resolution – is ever less sustainable and that the Idel-Ural idea not only has deep roots but growing support. 

            Not only have Idel-Ural activists called on Turkey to intervene with Moscow on their behalf (, but they have formed common ground with the broader opposition to Russia’s increasingly repressive laws on public expression.

            Yesterday, to that end as well as to call for the release of all political prisoners Moscow now holds and to support their own program, the Free Ideal Ural Movement organized pickets at Russian diplomatic posts in Great Britain, Ukraine, Poland, Finland and the United States (

            In Kyiv, for example, they carried banners declaring “The Kremlin kills native nations,” “Russia is a prison house of peoples,” and “Freedom to the Peoples, Freedom to the Individual.”  And in the languages of the peoples of Idel-Ural, they called for the independence of each and all of them.

            Syres Bolyaen, the organizer of the Kyiv demonstration, says that “Moscow would be glad to deal with us as it did with the Circassians and Chechens. But times are changing. Today, Russia isn’t capable of such mass actions aimed at the destruction of indigenous peoples.” And Putin has to be “satisfied” with stealing from the entire population, limiting the sovereignty of the republics, and Russifying the non-Russians.  

            “The task of the indigenous peoples,” he continues, “is to hold out until the moment when the snake bites its own tail and the empire self-destructs” (emphasis supplied). Similar sentiments were expressed by Idel-Ural demonstrators in New York, Helsinki, Warsaw, and London.

            An equally important development with regard to the growth of the Idel-Ural movement is new research that shows, contrary to Soviet and Russian claims that are typically accepted without question in the West, that people from the Middle Volga who were organized by the Germans to fight against Moscow frequently worked against the Nazis.

            Beginning in the mid-1950s, Soviet propagandists built up the figure of Musa Dzhalil, a Tatar poet whom the Nazis executed, as a hero of the resistance but used that trope to blacken the reputation of the Idel-Ural Legion as a whole. Now, in the Middle Volga, new studies conclude that he was hardly alone and not the most important of those from Idel-Ural who opposed Hitler.

            Some of that research is summarized by Radio Svoboda journalist Dmitry Lyubimov in an extensive new article “The Idel-Ural Legion: How Tatars Fought Against Hitler” (  Such corrections of the historical record will make it easier for people in the region to identify with the Idel-Ural idea.

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