Friday, May 15, 2020

Bashkortostan Head Undermining Bashkir-Tatar Relations to Please Moscow, Gabbasov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Over the last six months, Tatar activists have suggested that Bashkir officials are 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

            Six weeks ago, Ruslan Gabbasov, an activist in the embattled Bashkort nationalist organization (, said that both Tatars and Bashkirs are worried about such trends but not in the same way because of their different histories and aspirations (

And he argued 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 exacerbated nervousness and anger in Kazan.

            Now, in a new article for the IdelReal portal, Gabbasov says that he “personally and specifically accuses Radii Khabirov, the head of Bashkortostan, as being behind the start of this conflict” ( The activist’s comments are less a change in direction than a change in focus.

            Six weeks ago, he was focusing on the differences in demography between Tatarstan many of the members of the titular nationality of that republic live beyond its borders and Bashkortostan, most of whose members of the titular nationality live within them. Now, he is focusing on the specific actions and motivations of officials in Ufa and Kazan.

            Unlike the leaders of Tatarstan who enjoy a certain independence and the possibility of openly criticizing Moscow, Khabirov like most Bashkir leaders has shown himself to be committed to being more Muscovite in orientation than the Kremlin in the hopes that this will win him favor, Gabbasov says.

            At the start of his tenure in Ufa, Khabirov declared that he viewed his “chief task” is to be worthy of “the trust of the president,” not the Bashkir people but the man in the Kremlin.  And to that end, he has made statements and taken actions designed to help Moscow out, by weakening ties between Ufa and Kazan by means of the language issue.

            There is a real controversy concerning those who speak northwestern Bashkir, with the Bashkirs certain that it is a Bashkir dialect and the Tatars equally certain that it is a Tatar one. And the Tatars fear that playing up the Bashkir angle will allow Ufa to count more Bashkirs and fewer Tatars in the upcoming census.

            This issue, Gabbasov says, “is not as significant as the problems of federalism, but at the same time it is very sharp” and can be ginned up to increase animosity between the Bashkirs and the Tatars, animosity the only beneficiary of which is Moscow which is using its long-tested
“divide and rule” strategy.

            If Bashkirs and Tatars could sit down together without Moscow’s interference, the language issue could be resolved. But someone in the center doesn’t want that to happen, and Khabirov by his apparent rather than real support for Bashkir “nationalists” is simply helping the center out.

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