Staunton, February 24 – Vladimir Putin’s rehabilitation of Stalin as a statesman, military leader and “effective manager” has had many consequences, but one that has attracted less attention than it should is the impact on inter-ethnic relations in the Russian Federation not only among those nations he deported but among those he merely repressed in other ways.
That those the Soviet dictator deported should have a negative attitude toward him is no surprise, but many who were not subject to that extreme act of genocide nonetheless recall that he treated them abominably as well – and suspect that if he had lived longer, he would have deported them as well.
That Stalin was preparing to do that at the end of his life to the Jews is well-known. But rumors are now circulating that he wanted to deport some other nations and disband their national republics, a possibility the memory of which has become more important given Putin’s desire to reduce the number of non-Russian republics or even abolish them altogether.
Today, the Yandex page on Tatars and Tatarstan reports that “in our time, there have appeared troubling rumors that along with the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, Stalin planned to send the Kazan Tatars somewhere farther away and to disband their republic” (zen.yandex.ru/media/id/5db80c6aa660d700ac95decf/kak-stalin-otnosilsia-k-tataram-5e43c354cc7ba30841c6ed81).
Whether this was the case or not, the portal continues, “we will never find out.” It may be nothing more than the extension of Khrushchev’s famous remark that Stalin wanted to deport the Ukrainians to Siberia but didn’t have enough railcars to move them or space to put them once he got them there.
But Stalin’s relations with the Kazan Tatars were complicated. Until the Russian civil war, he had few contacts with them; but during the battle at Tsaritsyn, he got to know many Tatars and as peoples commissar for nationalities, he came to know even more. His relations were anything but warm and friendly.
During the Russian civil war, Stalin pushed for the creation of a unified Tatar-Bashkir Soviet republic. Such binational republics, some of which remain in place in the North Caucasus, was in his view a useful way to weaken national movements and promote the kind of Soviet internationalism Moscow favored.
But Stalin’s plans for the Middle Volga were blocked by Lenin who favored giving the Tatars and Bashkirs separate republics. While Lenin was alive, Stalin did not dare to try to counter him. And so the republics were created. But his hostility to the Tatars, sparked by his conflict with Sultan-Galiyev, did not go away.
He made negative comments about them and as he moved toward an imperial vision of the Soviet state, they became ever more so and took on official form. In August 1944, during the height of World War II, Stalin’s Central Committee issued a decree on ideological work in the Tatar party organization that led to purges and a tighter ideological straightjacket there.
“Nevertheless,” the portal continues, “things didn’t reach the level of major repressions. Stalin got old” and no longer could act as broadly as he had in the 1930s. “Of course, among local officials and cultural workers, heads flew, but the father of the peoples did not take up the Tatars all that seriously.”
Had he lived a few more years, however, that might have changed. The Kazan Tatars might have been deported, and Tatarstan suppressed.