By Paul Goble
On Saturday evening after the commemoration of the anniversary of the Russian sacking of Kazan in 1552, a second meeting was held among representatives of the peoples of the Middle Volga or Idel-Ural to create a coordinating committee to fight Vladimir Putin’s language and nationalities policies.
This meeting may prove even more significant that the first at which Tatar activists called for reversing Putin’s language policy and voting against him in the upcoming elections because it unites the nations of the enormous Idel-Ural region which sits astride all Russian communication and transportation links between European Russia and Siberia.
As such, preventing these peoples, who include both Turkic and Finno-Ugric nations, has been a central goal of Moscow policy makers since at least 1920 when Stalin engaged in his first great act of ethnic engineering by dividing the Tatars and Bashkirs into two republics and later the dividing up of the Finno-Ugric population into separate administrative units as well.
Now, thanks to Putin’s promotion of Russian and denigration of non-Russian languages and widespread fears that he plans to do away with the non-Russian republics entirely after the March 2018 elections, the peoples of Idel-Ural whom leaders from Stalin through Putin wanted to keep apart are coming together to oppose Moscow.
Representatives from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Mari El and Chuvashia say the meeting founded a new Coordination Council of Peoples of the Volga and Urals Region and declared its primary goal to be restoration of the rights of the non-Russian educational systems (idelreal.org/a/28796089.html, mariuver.com/2017/10/16/tat-chuv-mari/ and kommersant.ru/doc/3440338).
Marat Lotfulllin, an expert at Kazan’s Institute for the Development of Education in Tatarstan, told the group that the republics can only flourish if their national languages do and the latter can thrive only if they have support from the government in schools. Tatarstan grew when its schools shifted to Tatar, and that should be a lesson to all non-Russians.
Ilya Ivanov, a Chuvash activist, said that unfortunately the non-Russians had not yet come up with a mechanism to oppose effectively “the pressure of the federal center,” to which Fausiya Bayramova, the founder of Tatarstan’s Ittifaq National Independence Party, pointed out the obvious: In an authoritarian system, “it is impossible” to do that.
“Not only we,” she continued, “even the Russian democrats cannot influence this power.” Thus people must vote against Putin and his United Russia party. “Better Yabloko,” she suggested, “than these dictators.” Bayramova suggested the non-Russians still have a little time to resist.
The situation today, she said, is “very dramatic, but it is still not tragic.” It will become tragic, she argued, only next year after the elections, when “the national republics will be annulled.” Activists must explain to their peoples that “the disappearance of national languages in the schools will lead to the disappearance of national literature and national culture.”
And that in turn, the Ittifaq leader continued, will mean “the disappearance of the nation.”
Aleksandr Yakovlev of the Mary Ushem organization of Mari El and Ilnar Garifullin, a historian from Bashkortostan, seconded all her points. But perhaps the most interesting additional comment came not from a civic activist but from a Muslim religious leader, something that may make this meeting even more explosive in its consequences.
Zufar Galiullin, the mufti of Kirov oblast, said that “the greatest misfortune of Russia” is that it “was created not as a state but remains the Muscovite principality which steals all of Russia.” He called for a Congress of the Peoples of Russia” to address the situation. “If this will be in Kazan, that would be beautiful,” he said.
That meeting, the new organization agreed, will take place in the Tatarstan capital on November 6.
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