Staunton, February 19 – Between the last two censuses in 2002 and 2020, the number of Volga Tatars in the Russian Federation declined by 203,000 and the number who said they spoke Tatar by more than a million. Many in Kazan fear that there will be similar or even greater declines recorded in the 2020 census.
They see the threat coming from three directions: Moscow’s support of the Kryashens, whom Tatars view as Orthodox Tatars but whom Russia counts as a separate ethnos; Academician Valery Tishkov’s push to allow people to declare more than one national identity and one native language, an arrangement Tatars are certain will be used against them; and Bashkortostan’s program to promote the reidentification of Tatars on its territory as Bashkirs.
Officials and commentators in Tatarstan have long fought the first two moves, albeit with little success (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/02/majority-of-tatarstan-population-is.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/02/arrangements-for-upcoming-russian.html). Now, they appear ready to do more to counter the third.
Today, Ramil Tukhvatullin, a member of the Tatarstan State Council, warned that body that in the last census, “150,000 to 200,000 Tatars in Bashkortostan” were falsely listed as Bashkirs and that Ufa is working hard to increase that number in the upcoming enumeration (idelreal.org/a/30445364.html).
“At the present time, he said, “political organizers and experts in the neighboring republic intend to repeat this experiment.” If they do so, he warned, “then the number of Tatars will become still smaller,” reducing the size of the largest non-Russian nation still further and reducing its influence and ability to defend itself against Moscow.
According to Tukhvatullin, “our parliament must take this situation under control and working with scholars, social organizations and media begin a movement in defense of the rights of the Tatar people.” What Kazan did in 2002 and again in 2010 provides a good model of what the government of Tatarstan should be doing.
In advance of the 2010 census, Tatarstan adopted and sent to the other federal subjects a letter asking them not to allow any falsification of the numbers of Tatars or other nations. (For the text of that letter, see tatar-inform.ru/news/society/14-10-2010/razil-valeev-perepis-naseleniya-eto-vazhnoe-sobytie-gosudarstvennogo-masshtaba-4958002.)
The situation is now more dire, the deputy continues, especially in Bashkortostan where the authorities have targeted the Tatars living in the northwestern portion of that republic. Not only have they installed Bashkirs from elsewhere as heads of the local governments, but Ufa has insisted that the language spoken there is not Tatar but “a dialect of Bashkir” and instructed local officials promote Bashkir identity and Bashkir language among them.
This effort has been highlighted when popular cultural figures have announced that they are Bashkirs not Tatars (idelreal.org/a/30290684.html) and when others have said they are Bashkirs when they are in Bashkortostan but then declared themselves Tatars when they returned to Tatarstan (idelreal.org/a/30411813.html).
Tatar commentator Ilnar Garifulllin says that what Ufa is doing is illegal and more importantly shows what will happen if Moscow takes direct control of municipal governments. Now, the latter are supposed to be independent, but Putin wants them to become simply a branch of Moscow (idelreal.org/a/30439947.html).
At the republic level, Ufa is already acting as if the republic government has the right to tell the municipalities what to do, in this case, promote Bashkirization of Tatars, even though current law bans such a practice. Thus, this census issue is about far more than ethnicity and language: it is about the nature of the political system in the country.