Thursday, February 25, 2021

Tatars Need an Online University to Oppose Russian World and Promote Their Own De-Colonizati0n, Nasibullov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Nationalism as Tatars understood it in the 1990s has “exhausted itself, and “the old-new ‘leftwing’ agenda has become mainstream,” Kamil Nasibullov, a senior researcher at the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan. But especially now Tatars need a new definition of nationalism given the threat Moscow’s colonial policies represent.

            “Against a narrow nationalism focused on oneself alone,” he continues, now is the time for the promotion of “internationalism as a form of social action,” one “based on the cooperation of Tatars with other peoples, including the Bashkirs, Mari, Udmurts, Komi and many others” (/ reposted at

            In short, Nasibullov says, it is time to go back to the common agenda of the Turkic peoples that was promoted more than a century ago by Ismail Gaspirali in his Tercuman newspaper. That is now possible because people can make use of the Internet to learn and work with one another and thus ignore the existing divisions others have imposed.

            The most obvious and immediate application of these ideas, the Kazan investigator says, involves higher education. Many Tatars have wanted a national university for their republic, but in doing so, they have followed the Procrustean bed of Soviet thinking in which republics have universities rather than asking what the university is for.

            It is now obvious as it was not in the 1990s, that such an approach is doomed to fail. What Tatars need is not a university because they are a republic but a university which will transform Tatar society by promoting the decolonization of Tatar thinking and using “the entire arsenal of critical ‘leftist’ theory.”

            This is particularly needed no, Nasibullov says, because “’the Russian world’ is attacking, and ‘the Tatar world’ must defend itself with new means and on the basis of its own program.” And that program must not involve finding ways for Tatars to fit into the Russian world but rather ways for them to advance the Tatar alternative.

            “Such a project looks radical from the point of view of the social norms of the existing autocracy and cannot be realized in a direct fashion.” It could never be registered with the authorities, but that is an advantage because if it is not registered, the authorities have many fewer opportunities to subvert it.

            According to Nasibullov, “the present-day Russian university is a social form directed at the preservation of the status quo, which reproduces the discourse of colonization and self-colonization and where socially transforming thought is suppressed and blocked.”  A university committed to decolonizing minds can’t be like that.

            “Under contemporary political conditions, a university committed to decolonization can exist only in the form of an association of online network structures and off-line spaces for coming together.” Anyone who agrees to the overarching goal can take part, and the authorities aren’t likely to be able to prevent anyone from doing so.

            Given the inclination in Russia to transform “anything and everything” into a state institution, the powers that be will want any non-Russian republic to follow course. But an online university, just like Gasprali’s Tercuman, cannot easily be stopped. Indeed, its possibilities are greater than his were, the Kazan scholar says.

            Nasibullov continues: “Following the example of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, a decolonial university has as its goal an impact on the culture, social practice and, most of all, self-consciousness” of those who take part in it. To get things started, he has launched hashtag at  #татарскийдеколониальныйуниверситет.

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