Staunton, January 14 – Prosecutors in Kazan, undoubtedly under orders from Moscow, want to declare the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs), the oldest Tatar public organization, extremist and close it down. (Four years ago, they banned one of its branches.) They have already filed suit to that end in the Supreme Court of the republic.
VTOTs emerged in 1989 and played a key role in the national upsurge among Tatars at the end of the Soviet period and the first years afterwards. It organized massive demonstrations and its activities were routinely used by Kazan to argue in Moscow that any crackdown would produce an explosion.
But in the last two decades, the leaders of this group have aged; and their activities have become more restricted, focusing on the defense of the Tatar language and annual commemorations of the Russian occupation of Kazan in 1552. But as Moscow’s approach has become more repressive, even that has proved too much for the authorities.
Officials now view VTOTs as using what meetings it is involved with to promote anti-Russian or at least anti-Moscow points of view and thus qualifying as extremist, something the leaders of the group strenuously deny (turantoday.com/2021/01/tatar-public-center-charge-extremism.html, idelreal.org/a/31047704.html and business-gazeta.ru/article/495777).
Farit Zakiyev, the current president of VTOTs, says that “our organization was created by the people; and no one besides it can shut it down.” In response to the prosecution’s case, he is organizing a conference this coming weekend to decide how to respond now and what to do if the organization is in fact declared extremist as seems likely.
That Moscow is behind this move is suggested by the fact that last year, courts in Bashkortostan banned as extremist the Bashkort organization, a group set up in Ufa in 2014 along the same lines and for analogous purposes as VTOTs in Tatarstan (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/ufa-court-bans-bashkort-national.html).
Tatar historian Damir Iskhakov, a Kazan historian, says that it is clear that a directive has come from Moscow to “cleanse” the political field in Russian regions and republics in advance of mayoral and Duma elections, a step he suggests will be “extremely negative” for its authors as well as for the nations such groups represent.
What is taking place, he continues, is “the liquidation of the remnants of democracy,” something that will drive those involved underground where these moderate nationalists will be radicalized. “Out of that, typically nothing good arises,” a view other Tatar and Moscow commentators share (business-gazeta.ru/article/495714).