Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Having Offended Bashkortostan's Tatars in the Past, Republic Head Now Seeks Their Support

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 2 – Radiy Khabirov, head of Bashkortostan, recently met with leaders of the Tatar community to signal that he wants improved relations with it, Kharun Sidorov says, the apparent result of his having alienated many ethnic Bashkirs and of his being at risk of losing the support of Moscow as well and of his hopes that the Tatars may keep him in office.

            The February 27 meeting might be dismissed as simply an entirely a matter of politesse, the ethnic specialist at Prague’s Charles University says; but more likely it reflects a change in Khabirov’s approach to the three major ethnic groups in his republic (

            In the past, the Moscow-appointed official sought support from Bashkirs by pursuing an anti-Tatar policy including the closing of Tatar institutions in his republic; but Khabirov’s crackdown against Bashkir activists has called into question his support among them and in Moscow as well.

            Consequently, he is seeking to regain support among the Tatars of the republic and that should mean he will seek a rapprochement with the neighboring republic of Tatarstan as well, yet another example of the way in which demography often stands behind the complex ethnic politics in non-Russian republics like Bashkortostan.

            According to the 2021 census, ethnic Russians form 37.5 percent of the republic’s population; Bashkirs, 31.5 percent; and Tatars, 24.2 percent, although many Tatar commentators in Bashkortostan and in Tatarstan believe that Khabirov led the drive to falsify these figures to drive up the share of Bashkirs primarily but not exclusively at the expense of Tatars living there.

            Although the Tatars and Bashkirs are two distinct nations, their separation into two Middle Volga republics was Stalin’s first great act of ethnic engineering (; and the narcissism of small differences has made their relationship fraught.

            On the one hand, these factors have led Ufa to seek to depress the number of Tatars in order to boost the number of Bashkirs in the republic, a fraction especially important given the size of the ethnic Russian community Moscow included within Bashkortostan and the fact that Ufa doesn’t want to be overly influenced by neighboring Kazan (, and

            But at the same time, both Kazan and Ufa have many common interests, including the eventual recovery of the Orenburg corridor which would open the way to their gaining independence from Moscow (

            Consequently, for the Ufa regime, swings between putting pressure on the Tatars and providing them with support are the warp and woof of Bashkortostan politics, although each turn undoubtedly leads to increasing cynicism on the part of the population from which the Bashkortostan head hopes to gain.


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