Sunday, March 29, 2020

Some Tatars ‘Infected with Virus of Great Power Chauvinism,’ Bashkir Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – In recent months, Tatar activists have suggested that Ufa is seeking to have Tatars living in Bashkortostan reidentify as Bashkirs in order to boost that nation’s numbers and reduce the number of Tatars.  And they have even suggested that the Bashkir authorities are prepared to falsify the figures to get their way

            Now, a Bashkir activist has responded and suggested that Tatar fears are overblown and that both Muslim Turkic peoples face a common threat, Moscow’s assimilationist and divide-and-conquer policies. But despite that call for cooperation, his words may have exactly the opposite effect and exacerbate concerns in Kazan.

            In an article for the IdelReal portal, Ruslan Gabbasov, an activist of the embattled Bashkort nationalist organization (, says that both Tatars and Bashkirs are worried about such trends but not in the same way because of their different histories and aspirations (

            “The Tatar nation,” the Bashkir activist says, “mostly lives compactly in Tatarstan itself (two million) and in neighboring Bashkortostan (one million). In the other regions of Russia, Tatars live dispersed among others.”  They are concerned but have largely accepted the fact that many groups which identified as Tatars earlier are now identifying as separate people.

            These include the Siberian Tatars, the Crimean Tatars, and the Nogays of Astrakhan. Supporters of a civic Russian national identity like Vladimir Tishkov are thrilled by this development. But Tatars see it as a direct attack on their status as the second nation in the country.

            They are even more alarmed by moves to separate out from themselves the Mishars and the Kryashens, although they are losing that battle with the number of Kryashens rising rapidly in recent censuses, Gabbasov says. And so some Tatar activists are focusing on the assimilation of Tatars as such outside of Tatarstan.

            According to the Bashkir activist, “the Tatars just like any large ethnos, is infected with the virus of ‘great power chauvinism” (stress supplied), and that sometimes is expressed in anything but “the best way.”

            The number of Tatars and Tatar speakers has been falling because of assimilation and mixed marriages, Gabbasov says.  According to research by Yevgeny Soroko of the Higher School of Economics, Tatars are the Muslim nation least opposed to ethnic intermarriage. Bashkirs, like the Chechens, are at the other end of the scale.

            As far as the issue of “the problems of the North-Western Bashkirs,” Gabbasov says, the situation is very different than the way some in Kazan have been presenting it. Historically, it was populated by Bashkir tribes. Then some Tatars moved in because of Russian pressure on Kazan, and more recently some of them have left because Tatarstan is doing better economically.

            Many local people who had identified as Tatars are now identifying as Bashkirs given the departure of so many Tatars and the absence of Tatar schools. But this is a natural process, and there is no reason to believe that Ufa is forcing it or that it would ever think to falsify data as some in Tatarstan have suggested. That would be lying to oneself and counterproductive.

            “Nothing should be allowed to divide the Tatars and Bashkirs,” he says; “we are absolutely in the same position. We have had our sovereignty taken from us, our Constitutions have been rewritten, the obligatory study of the state languages of the republics has been banned, and our children speak Russian.”

            Today, the Bashkir activist says, we have to stop attacking one another and sit down to discuss any common problems. The only questions are “’are we ready for this?’ and ‘who will be the first to take this step?’”

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