Saturday, October 15, 2022

Tatars Not Declining in Bashkortostan Even though Ufa has been Reidentifying Tatar Speakers to Boost Titular Nationality, Kazan Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – Tatars have long complained that Bashkortostan officials have been reidentifying Tatars as Bashkirs in Russian censuses so as to boost the share of Bashkirs in the population, but in most cases, such comments are based either on anecdotal reports or on plausible inferences from the census data itself.

            Now, however, Fail Safin, a scholar at the Kazan Institute for Ethnological Research, has gathered data from a number of Bashkortostan regions which show that the number of Tatar speakers in them has remained constant or even grown despite reports that the census reports showing a boost in the number of Bashkirs.

            Information about Safin’s findings was first published in Tatar ( It has now been published in Russian as well (

            The numerous figures Safin offers will be of interest primarily to specialists, but his overall conclusion that Tatar identity among the population of Bashkortostan remains strong and that the number of Tatars in Bashkortostan is greater than Ufa is reporting or allowing to be reported in all-Russian censuses is important and not just in the case of Bashkortostan.

            On the one hand, it is clear that Ufa has been playing games with the figures – the numbers Safin has come up with prove that – and that what the Bashkir government has done is likely being down in other non-Russian republics where non-titular non-Russian nationalities compete with the titular one.

            But on the other, it is also true that the relationship between declared national identity and declared native language is often more complicated than many assume. It is thus possible that in Bashkortostan, some who grew up in Tatar-speaking families which identified as Tatars in the census may be shifting their ethno-national identity to Bashkirs.

            To the extent that is happening – and unfortunately, it is a possibility that Safin does not address in this study – then some or perhaps even a large portion of the phenomenon he points to has less to do with official manipulation than with a process in which people take on the identity of the titular nationality for the benefits that can confer even if they retain their native language.

            Something similar can and does happen among groups who live in Russian areas but whose native languages are similar to Russian and who can thus retain their native language even as they shift to a Russian “national” identity.

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