Staunton, July 19 – In 1959, the US Congress passed an act requiring the president to declare the third week of July Captive Nations Week. At the time of its passage, the act listed 22 captive nations living under communist tyranny. Many but far from all of those peoples have succeeded in gaining freedom since that time.
And over the last 60 years, the declarations of the US president have shifted to repression of all kinds and not just that animated by communism or centered on Moscow. This year’s declaration by President Joe Biden continues that tradition by putting the US on the side of all those struggling against repression (whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/07/16/a-proclamation-on-captive-nations-week-2021/).
But two of the 22 nations listed in 1959 as captive nations remain under Moscow’s control, Cossackia and Idel Ural. The former is often dismissed in the West and Russia as something absurd despite the efforts of Cossacks to achieve recognition, autonomy and even independence. (See this author’s “Cossackia: No Longer an Impossible Dream?” Eurasia Daily Monitor 16:23 (2019) at jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/.)
The latter is often met in the West and even in Russia with incredulity because sadly few know that Idel Ural refers to the lands and peoples between the Volga River, Idel in the languages of that region, and the Urals and thus are unfamiliar both with efforts to recover that land’s independence from Moscow.
But many in that region still aspire to that goal and their spokesmen, many of whom have been forced into emigration by Russian repression, view Captive Nations Week as an occasion to speak out on behalf of their still “captive” peoples as well as to offer their support to captive nations around the world.
Kamil Sukayev, an activist for the Free Idel-Ural organization who now lives in New York, says that the 1959 law “remains important to this day for all peoples under the yoke direct or indirect of countries and political systems” who do not represent them. “This is indisputably true of the peoples of the Russian Federation” (idelreal.org/a/31365975.html).
It is especially true, he continues, of the people of the Middle Volga “who live and try to preserve their languages and cultures under the constantly spread Hitlerite-like ideas of ‘a single Russian nation’ and ‘a Russian world.’” With each year, unfortunately, these policies are intensifying rather than ebbing.
Unless the peoples of Idel Ural are supported practically and not just symbolically by the Free World, Sukayev continues, then 30 years from now, “the situation in Russia as a whole and in Tatrstan in particular in the best case won’t get worse but, in the worst, will occur the most complete degradation and dissolution of the Tatar nation and its transformation into ‘Russians.’”
Rafis Kashapov, another émigré from the Middle Volga now in the United Kingdom who is vice president of the Free Idel Ural organization, says his group seeks an Idel Ural in which there will be “a union of independent states including Tatarstan, Mari El, Udmurtia, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia and Erzyano-Mokshania.”
“Each republic,” he continues, “will carry out an independent foreign and domestic policy,” but “for all countries of Idel Ural, there will be established a single currency, a single tariff zone, a joint army and a joint defense of the region’s external borders.”
He points out that “in contrast to such other former colonial powers as Spain, Britain, Portugal and France which gave freedom to their colonial possessions, Russia just like a century ago conducts a colonial policy to this day.” Kashapov says that Captive Nations Week provides an important opportunity to call the world’s attention to this fact.