Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Civic Nationalism in Non-Russian Republics Greater Threat to Moscow than Ethnic Variant, Sidorov Asks

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 10 – Many Bashkirs are now looking back to the ideas of Zaki Validi Togan, the founder of the first Bashkir Republic for inspiration, but they face a serious challenge because they simultaneously have advantages he did not have and disadvantages that Moscow imposed that limit their way forward, Vadim Sidorov says.

Last month, Bashkirs marked the 130th anniversary of the birth of Akhmed Zaki Validi Togan; and the Prague-based commentator discussed his ideas and the political situation he had to navigate during the Russian Civil War (

Now, Sidorov extends his discussion of this inheritance by pointing out that “for the ideological successes of Validi Togan now,” the task ahead is both easier than the one he faced and far more difficult at one and the same time. But there is a way out, one that poses an even more serious challenge to Moscow than nationalism (

On the one hand, the commentator says, their task is far easier because “Bashkortostan already exists” and both Moscow and Bashkortostan’s neighbors have long recognized its borders.  But on the other hand, as a result of Moscow’s insertion of a poison pill in the 1920s, the republic faces a serious challenge in becoming a genuinely autonomous republic.

In 1922, the Soviet government added significant territory to Validi Togan’s Bashkortostan, not to give it more power but precisely to prevent it from having any. Moscow added lands and populations from Ufa Gubernia whose population was overwhelmingly Russian and Tatar.

“As a result,” Sidorov continues, “the ethnic Bashkirs in the Republic of Bashkortostan today form only 30 percent of its population,” while there remain beyond its borders areas in Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, and Sverdlovsk Oblasts which have significant Bashkir populations that many would like to see part of Bashkortostan.

Given this, “an attempt at the realization of the classic formula of Zaki Validi of ‘a homogeneous Bashkortostan within a heterogeneous and federal Russia” is now “even more of a problem than it was a century ago, the Prague commentator and ethnic rights activist argues. Seeking to add Bashkir regions could cost it non-Bashkir ones within the republic.

What this means, Sidorov says, is that the only way forward is to promote a civic national identity in Bashkortostan rather than continuing to rely on an ethnic one. That is not what Zaki Validi hoped for, but it is what now imprisoned “neo-Validist” activist Ayrat Dilmukhametov has been urging.

Given that Moscow has been promoting civic national identity by pushing for residents of the country to identify as Rossiyane rather than as Russians and members of other national groups, that might seem to be something the central Russian government would welcome. But in fact, Moscow sees it as a greater threat than ethnic nationalism.

The reasons for that are obvious, Sidorov suggests. Moving in the direction Dilmukhametov as a neo-Validi activist wants would unite the republics far more than ethnicity can given that there are always minorities, and it would reduce Moscow’s ability to play on such divisions in order to maintain a centralist authoritarian state.  

That is why the Russian authorities have sentenced Dilmukhametov to nine years behind bars (  Were his ideas, that would make real federalism in Russia more likely, some the Kremlin fears more than the ethnic nationalisms it has learned how to exploit and counter.

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