Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Chuvash ‘a People of Missed Opportunities,’ Khuzangay Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – The Chuvash, a Christian Turkic nation in the Middle Volga, seldom receive much attention despite their possibilities as a bridge between the Muslim and Orthodox Christian worlds. The reason, Atner Khuzangay says on the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Chuvash autonomous oblast, is that they have been “a people of missed opportunities.”

            The literary critic who is also honorary president of the Chuvash National Congress says the Chuvash have done so because they have only occasionally focused on political power and urban centers, preferring instead to base themselves in their culture and in their rural life (idelreal.org/a/30686130.html).

            The problem of the Chuvash in this regard is that it is not clear that any people can long prosper if it ignores politics and it is becoming ever more clear that the rural base of the Chuvash may not survive long into the future, putting the life of the nation and its language at risk, Khuzangay continues. 

            The Chuvash did not build on the possibilities presented by the korenizatiya (“rooting”) campaign of the early Soviet period, and they did not mobilize to secure plans for “a Greater Chuvashia” with its capital at Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk) rather than seeing themselves confined to the current borders and their capital growing out of a village.

            Instead, and reflecting their history, the critic says, “the Chuvash never needed power. They stood aside from it and tried to remain as distant from it as possible.” And they also stayed isolated from other Turkic languages and groups. For them, what mattered was their language and culture.

            There have been exceptions, but they at most prove the rule. However, under current conditions, what the Chuvash value most is no longer entirely possible. If they want to be isolated from the state, the state is not prepared to let them be and has moved against both their language and their traditional culture.

            In the years before the 1917 revolution, there were “passionate” Chuvash in Lev Gumilyev’s terms, but today they lack that and instead seek compromises with those in power and repeated demonstrations of their loyalty to the powers that be, approaches that work against them.

            One measure of the depth of the current problem is that when Khuzangay is asked to name the contemporary book about the Chuvash, he does not point to one written by a Chuvash author but rather to Andreas Kappeler’s 2016 study, The Chuvash: A People in the Shadows of History (in German, Vienna), that captures the nation’s situation.

            Asked about the future, the critic says that he thinks the Chuvash will keep their autonomy “if there do not occur some social-political cataclysms” and that “the Chuvash people in any case will exist longer regardless of whether the forms of statehood change,” an attitude that could save them but inevitably puts them at risk.

            Khuzengay’s pessimism is more widely shared among the Chuvash than is commonly assumed. And it sometimes reaches truly disturbing dimensions. While the self-immolation of Udmurt scholar Albert Razin is better known (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/09/udmurt-scholars-self-immolation.html), waves of this phenomenon have hit Chuvashia.

            Only when Chuvash have chosen to kill themselves this way not in their native land but in Moscow, as happened seven years ago, have many taken note of the fact that this kind of suicide not only is not uncommon among them but even has its own distinctive name (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/02/window-on-eurasia-desperation-behind.html).

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