By Paul Goble
The Republic of Tatarstan as an ethnically defined state within the Russian Federation cannot solve Kazan’s nationality problem not only because twice as many Tatars live outside its borders than within but also because the Tatar capital is an important cultural center for many of the other peoples of the Middle Volga, Mark Shishkin says.
Instead, the Russian commentator argues, the Tatars, if they are to address their most important and pressing problems, need to adopt a regionalist approach, one that will allow them to escape from the Soviet one that continues to limit their opportunities as a people (region.expert/tatarstan-regionalism/).
Such an approach would allow them to take advantage of the benefits the formation of a larger and regionally defined policy, one that would not be the death of the Tatar nation as many now fear but rather as the basis for its flourishing and growth beyond what the Soviet and now Russian state have allowed.
This intriguing and certainly unexpected argument is important because it could open the way to two apparently diametrically opposed outcomes – the suppression of the Republic of Tatarstan under Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation scheme and the rise of a greater Tatarstan in its place
That possibility may make the Kremlin more cautious in promoting the disbanding of Tatarstan and other existing republics and may transform at least some of the current non-Russian opponents of such a plan into those who can begin to think how they could achieve their own goals should Moscow try to achieve its
At present, Shishkin says, Tatarstan is defined by “the ethno-confessional composition of its population.” But critically, under the Soviets, it was Moscow rather than the people who decided what that would be by drawing borders and establishing a hierarchy of nations and nationalities.
When Moscow created the Tatar ASSR in 1920, it effectively disbanded the larger and more multi-ethnic regional Idel-Ural State. As a result, the commentator says, “Kazan ceased to be the cultural center for the Chuvash and Mari and representatives of other indigenous peoples who from antiquity had lived on the territory of the TASSR became minorities there.”
That deprived Tatarstan of access to Tatars outside of the republic and led both in Soviet times and afterwards to the rise of ethnocracy with one people dominating others. These two factors have meant that the desires of both groups, Tatars and the other Middle Volga nations, could not be fulfilled completely.
The situation of the Tatars has become especially problematic. They form only 52.9 percent of the population of their republic and only 36 percent of all the Tatars living within the current borders of the Russian Federation. And they are cut off from the other Middle Volga peoples who like them know Russian and regularly intermarry.