Staunton, April 4 – Many analysts have noted that each round of new protests adds to the strength of liberals in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but they have failed to note that the wave of demonstrations across Russia is adding strength to “nationalism in the non-Russian republics,” Abbas Gallyamov says.
Gallyamov, an ethnic Bashkir who earlier served as a speechwriter for Vladimir Putin and as an official in Ufa, says that this latter development may prove just as important but that so far it is taking place below the radar screen of the Putin leadership and thus will take center stage unexpectedly in the future (business-gazeta.ru/article/504703).
In a 5,000-word interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the commentator devotes most of his attention to the emerging protest movement in the capitals in the context of the upcoming Duma elections. But he concludes with a discussion of the new rise of nationalism generally and in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan in particular.
Gallyamov begins by pointing to the controversy over the longstanding tradition in which Bashkir officials list as Bashkirs people in their republic whom others would insist are Tatars. That approach “hasn’t disappeared,” he says; but he argues that “one must understand that a significant number of these people have dual identities.”
They don’t strongly distinguish between being Tatar and being Bashir. “For the intelligentsia, people who are involved in politics, this is a question of life and death: You are a Tatar or you are a Bashkir. But the majority of ordinary people simply live in another way,” Gallyamov continues.
“A census taker comes and begins to ask what is your native language. The individual answers Tatar. Then he is asked whether he considers himself a Bashkir or a Tatar. And the person being questioned is at a loss: “I don’t even know.’” Then the census taker insists that his ethnic identity align with his language or his place of residence.
The respondent isn’t being forced to choose one identity or another, but “in all this, there is an element of manipulation,” but those being manipulated don’t see things that way. Instead, they are comfortable with having dual identities and are ready to call themselves both Tatars and Bashkirs.
Of course, the Bashkir establishment includes many “stupid people” who think that “the struggle for the number of Bashkirs is their duty to the nation and to history.” And at the same time, there is “a general politicization of the situation,” arising from many factors but especially the work of nationalists.
These people believe that “all of our problems are connected with the fact that we aren’t respected as a people and are oppressed.” This discourse has the effect of politicizing the census issue and much else, Gallyamov continues. And it means that as protests arise in the republics for whatever reason, including support for Navalny, the nationalists gain ground.
There is an element of envy in Bashkortostan about Tatarstan, but only among “the ethnically concerned intelligentsia,” he says. Such people have “a younger brother syndrome” and it drives what they think and do. But that arises less from the actions of Moscow than from the situation as it has evolved on the ground.
The commentator says that he “does not believe that someone [in Moscow] is intentionally trying to achieve this course of development.” Not only Vladimir Putin but most of those around him are still traumatized by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and “they will not play with the nationality question.” Fortunately, they lack the courage to do so.
But while they do, there are always enough “fools who will constantly throw fuel on the fire.”
It is true that the Kremlin made a serious mistake when it dropped the obligatory study of non-Russian languages in the republics. That did add fuel to the nationalist fire. Obviously, someone convinced Putin that doing so would lead to the disappearance of nations. “But in fact, it only increased tensions with them.”
As a result, both the Tatars and Bashkirs are offended, “and national resentment was only increased,” he says. That has led the Kremlin to decide that nationalists are the problem and that the center must struggle against them. But the question is how is Moscow going to do that without contributing to the nationalist rhetoric.
No one in the Kremlin is capable of asking that question or recognizing that its actions are making the situation worse. These people are “so accustomed to solving tasks from a position of strength” that “they aren’t in a position to imagine that they will not always be strong.” Instead, they assume by that time, they will be living somewhere else, “in Nice or in Geneva.”