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.