Staunton, Jan. 13 – Moscow is undoubtedly pleased that the total number of Tatars fell by 600,000 since 2010, but the Russian authorities can’t be pleased by the fact that one of the primary tactics they used in the past to reduce the number of Tatars completely failed during the last inter-censal period.
That method consisted in pushing members of sub-national communities within the Tatars to identify as members of those groups rather than as Tatars, an effort most notoriously deployed with the Kryashens, Mishars, Siberian Tatars, and Astrakhan Tatars (tatar-inform.ru/news/itogi-perepisi-2021-tatarstan-rastet-no-tatar-v-rossii-stalo-mense-5892351).
But the latest census results show that such an effort, whatever successes it may have brought Moscow in the past, completely failed over the last decade. The number of those identifying as Mishars rather than Tatars rose by only one person, from 786 in 2010 to 787 in 2020; and those identifying as members of all but one of the others fell.
The number of people identifying as Siberian Tatars rather than as Tatars declined from 6779 to 6297 and that of people identifying as Astrakhan Tatars fell from 34,822 to 29,978. Only the Astrakhan Tatars increased but from only seven people in all in 2010 to 29 in the latest Russian census.
Except for the Mishars and Kryashens, these other groups live outside Tatarstan and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that they chose to identify as Russians. But even if that is the case, this policy of promoting sub-national ethnic communities long among the favored tools in Moscow’s nationality toolbox no longer works as those at the center had hoped.
That likely means that the Russian government will provide less support to these groups because they haven’t played the role Moscow hoped for; and if that is the case, then they will either identify as Tatars or Russians rather than become the new nations the center had hoped to create to weaken one of the oldest.