Sunday, October 17, 2021

Passing of Safiullin Raises Question: Will a New Generation of Tatar Nationalists Emerge?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 11 – One of the wisest observations one of my professors of Russian history ever made was to point out that the Silver Age in Russia would eventually have ended even if there had not been a Bolshevik revolution. The brilliant pleiade of writers and thinkers that emerged at that time would likely have been unable to reproduce itself for long.

            The same observation holds for the founding generation in the United States and the most remarkable eras in many countries, but now the question about continuity in such movements is occurring with particular force among non-Russian nationalists as the generation that led the charge for greater freedom and even independence 30 years ago passes from the scene.

            As the members of that generation which made use of perestroika to advance the interests of their nations die off, ever more people are asking whether a new generation can emerge and, if so, how and when. In many cases, there is real pessimism; but there are grounds for optimism as well.

            One figure from the glory days of Tatar nationalism, Fandas Safiullin, has just died; and at his funeral in Kazan many recalled his remark shortly before his death: “I am leaving, but the nation will remain. What will become of it? Will the young replace us?” or will there be a new period of a void (

            For most of his professional life, Safiullin, who died at 85, was a professional soldier in the Soviet army. After retiring as a colonel in 1988, he became a deputy in the Tatar ASSR supreme Soviet and worked hard to defend the republic and the interests of its titular nation against Moscow and against indifference.

            His name will always be part of Tatar history because on August 30, 1990, he read out the declaration of state sovereignty of Tatarstan in the republic Supreme Soviet, a document he helped draft. And after that time, he consistently served as a representative of his nation in Moscow and at home.

            In 1999, he briefly became president of the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs), but gave up that position when he was elected to the Russian State Duma. There he also fought for Tatarstan and its right to use the Latin script. He didn’t win out, but he didn’t give up. And that inspired many, speakers at his funeral said.

            Many praised him for his involvement with the Tatar national movement and some said that in many ways he was “’the only professional politician’ in the broad sense of the word” that Tatarstan has ever had. Academician Indus Tagirov said that “he has not left us but remains for however long the Tatar nation lives, he will live.”

            And because “the Tatar nation is eternal, [Safiullin] will never disappear.” The question hanging in the air is whether he will be a lonely figure from the past or one of a new generation of Tatar nationalists who will continue the fight that he devoted so much of his life to

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