Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Had Tatarstan Been a Union Republic in 1991, Yeltsin Might have Thought Twice Disbanding USSR, Fayzrakhmanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Anniversaries so beloved by the Russian leadership are dangerous things because they lead people to focus not only on what has happened but what has not and thus to consider how history for them would have been fundamentally different if this or that step had been  taken or not.

            In essay on this centenary year in Tatarstan, commentator Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov explores some of these dangerous alternatives including the fact that initially Tatarstan was called an SSR, that it became the TASSR only in 1936, and that had it been a union republic, Boris Yeltsin might have thought twice before allowing the other union republics to exit.

            That is because the departure of Tatarstan and presumably Bashkortostan which could have had the same status and thus might have left at the same time would have cut the RSFSR in two, opening the way not to a single Russia but to multiple Russias, including a Siberia independent of Moscow (business-gazeta.ru/article/473146).

            It is worth remembering, Fayzrakhmanov says, “that before 1920, there were several unsuccessful attempts to establish a republic in the form of an Idel-Ural state and its Bolshevik antithesis in the form of a Tatar-Bashkir Soviet Republic.” Moscow was ready in March 1918 to declare that entity in existence but the civil war prevented that outcome.

            What many Tatars do not know even know is that Tatarstan did not become the TASSR until 1937. Prior to that it was the ATSSR, an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and was often written in the 1920s and early 1930s simply as the TSSR, including in official documents, something that led some to equate it with a union republic like Ukraine.

            Tatar leaders played this up. In the official brochure they issued in 1920, the status of Tatarstan was explicitly “positioned alongside the Ukrainian, Azerbaijani, Kyrgyz, and Bashkir republics” and not as on a tier below the union republics.  That was especially common in Tatar language materials.

            In reality, Fayzrakhmanov says, “Tatarstan had every chance to become a union republic given that Bashkortostan at that moment had a common border with the Kyrgyz Republic (Kazakhstan) and at that moment the Stalinist argument about the absence of borders with other republics would not have operated.”

            “Had Tatarstan and Bashkortostan acquired union republic status then, it is possible that Yeltsin and Russian elites would have thought many times whether to destroy the USSR” because if the two Middle Volga republics had left, the RSFSR would have been cut in to by separatist movements.

            Fayzrakhmanov says that recently something very curious happened: No one could find “not only the original text of the 1920 decree in Tatar” but also the complete text of a variant of that in the 1930s.  That is because the Tatar texts did not make the republic’s status lower than the SSRs but rather put it alongside them.

            A major reason behind what happened in the 1920s is that the Bolsheviks hoped to use Tatarstan’s state status as a means to revolutionize the colonial East. They even established a special factory to produce Arabic script typewriters to type up Bolshevik propaganda, the Kazan commentator says.

            “Unfortunately,” he concludes, many of the dreams and plans” of the early Soviet period “weren’t fated to be achieved.” But they raised hopes and put down markers that haven’t been forgotten even if history has gone in a different direction over the last 100 years.

Moscow Can’t Allow Internationalization of Northern Sea Route because of Its Domestic Needs, Zhuravel Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Ever more countries including those without any territory adjoining the Arctic are demanding that the Northern Sea Route be internationalized, but the Russian Federation cannot permit such a change of status in the Northern Sea Route because that route is the primary link between its various northern territories and Moscow, Valery Zhuravel says.

            The head of the Center for Arctic Research at Moscow’s Institute of Europe says that “for Russia, the question of control over the Northern Sea Route has critical importance because this is still the only transportation route capable of integrating the distant regions of the Far North and its resource potential into the national economy” (ng.ru/dipkurer/2020-06-28/9_7896_arctic.html).

            Thus, all efforts to internationalize the route are a direct threat to Russia’s national security and even its territorial integrity, and the Russian government cannot fail to respond forcefully to prevent such outcomes, Zhuravel says. He singles out for particular criticism, the US, China, Korea, Japan, the UK, and Norway.

            And the Moscow scholar says that these countries are doing everything they can to “discredit the activity of Russia in the Arctic” both with respect to handling the environment and the treatment of the numerically small indigenous peoples there. Some recent events, like the Norilsk oil spill, have hurt Russia because they have been used by the country’s opponents.

            To protect its interests, Zhuravel says, Moscow is creating a separate military command for the north, building new airfields there, replacing its aging icebreaker fleet with new generation ships, and expanding the role of the Russian Guard there, which will soon stand guard at all the major harbors in the north.

            Other countries need to recognize that they have forced Russia to take these steps because from the Russian perspective, “the Arctic must remain a territory of low political tension and the successful development of multi-faceted international cooperation,” as long as everyone recognizes Russia’s special transportation and communication needs.

‘Cossacks Need Diaspora to Achieve Their Goals,’ Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Diasporas played a key role in developments at the end of Soviet times. The recovery of Baltic independence would not have happened in the way that it did had it not been for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian activists abroad. And the Circassian national movement is at least as dependent on its far larger disaporas than on its residents within Russia.

            Now, Cossack activist Konstantin Dyakonov says, Cossacks must follow the lead of these and other groups and develop far stronger ties with diaspora communities who can help them achieve their goals by sharing ideas and lobbying for the Cossack cause (facebook.com/groups/471477107025889/permalink/698971354276462/).

            Cossack diasporas have played such a role in the past: they were responsible for the inclusion of a reference to Cossackia in the 1959 US Congressional Captive Nations Week resolution. But this new effort is important both a sign of the maturation of the Cossack movement and as a challenge to the Kremlin’s efforts to replace real Cossacks with fake ones.

            Reaching out to the diaspora is yet another means genuine Cossacks, those who descend from and share traditional Cossack values, have to distinguish themselves from and prevent their absorption by Putin’s pseudo-Cossacks who dress up as Cossacks but have little connection to the real thing. (On that, see jamestown.org/program/putins-pseudo-cossacks-assume-larger-role-but-real-cossacks-refuse-to-go-along/).

            And any increase in contacts between the Cossack diaspora, which is large and dispersed, and the real Cossacks inside the current Russian borders will no doubt serve to reinforce the views of both that Cossacks are a nation not a stratum and thus deserve the right to self-determination. (See jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/).

            There is as yet no comprehensive study of the Cossack diaspora communities around the world, but for introduction to their sources and a survey of where they find themselves today, see Andreas Kappeler’s The Cossacks (in German, Munich, 2013) and Philip Longworth’s The Cossacks (London, 1969).