Sunday, May 31, 2020

‘If It Weren’t for Tatarstan, Russia would Be a Much More Unitary State,’ Tatars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – As Kazan this week marks the centenary of the formation of the Tatar ASSR at the dawn of the Soviet era, leading Tatar intellectuals and politicians are pointing out that Tatarstan is important not only in its own right but for the impact it has had and will continue to have on Russia as a whole.

            Having often played the role of leader of or at least spokesman for all non-Russian republics and even more for all non-Russians, they argue, if Tatarstan did not exist and if it did not act as it has, they argue, “Russia would be a much more unitary state” than it currently is (

            Kazan’s Business-Gazeta asked a wide variety of Tatar leaders which decade of the last century they consider most successful, the 1920s when the republic was founded, the war years, the economic boom under Fikhrat Tabeyev, the disintegration of the USSR, or the last ten years.  Among the answers, the following are especially interesting and instructive:

·         Oleg Morozov who represents Tatarstan in Russia’s Federation Council, says that “in essence, Tatarstan by its unusual actions and dialogue with the federal center formed what is the Russian Federation today … Without Tatarstan, [Russia] would certainly have been different” and more unitary than it is.

·         Rafael Khakimov, head of the Marjani Institute of History, says that for him, the 1990s were the most successful because Tatarstan was able to raise its status and defend it.

·         Academician Indus Tagirov says that the 1920s were special because Tatarstan was able to arrange things with Moscow that it had control of large swaths of its national life.

·         Rafik Mukhametshin, deputy Mufti of Tatarstan, says that “if it weren’t for the sovereignty of Tatarstan, Russia would have moved far further toward a unitary state. Tatarstan reminded and reminds the center that our country is a Federation with regions and that the center must take them into account.” Kazan has not achieved all that it wants but politics is the art of the possible, and it has done well.

·         Radik Salikhov, deputy director of the Marjani Institute of History, notes that “even foreign experts recognize that one must study” Tatarstan and its impact on the collective life of Russia throughout all periods of the last 100 years.

·         And Iskander Gilyazov, head of the Institute of the Tatar Encyclopedia and Regional Studies, says that the two most important decades were the 1920s and the 1990s because in each case, Kazan was able to define itself and its future.

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