By Paul Goble
The pressures Moscow is now applying to Tatars and other Muslim minorities to learn Russian and assimilate is having an unintended and unwelcome consequence, Damir Iskhakov warns. By cutting these peoples loose from their traditional cultural moorings, Moscow is opening the way for many to become Islamist radicals.
Speaking at recent meeting of the Third Capital Club in the Tatarstan capital reported today on the Russkaya liniya portal, the Kazan historian said that “the assimilation of the Tatars not only linguistically but with the loss of ethnic self-consciousness frequently leads Tatars to become Wahhabis” (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2017/01/21/tatary_i_ideologiya_russkogo_mira/).
As some do not appear to understand, “a health ethnic self-consciousness permits the Tatars to defend against the influence of Wahhabism;” and thus Moscow’s assimilationist policy is having exactly the opposite effect on national unity and stability than the one its authors routinely claim.
The Kazan historian said he grew up in a mixed Russian-Tatar village and thus understands how both Russians and Tatars feel about language and identity. And he argued that if one examines how Russians have organized their relations with the Volga Tatars, one can see how they want to do so with other ethnic communities.
“The Tatars,” Iskhakov said, “are in terms of religion part of Islamic civilization, but at the same time they are also part of Russian civilization, although not completely so.” And he stressed that “Muslims will not be able to cooperate with other peoples” if the latter view them as subordinate. Relations must be based on equality.
According to the Kazan historian, “Russians want to see Russia as an ethnic Russian nation state.” As a Tatar nationalist, he continued, he “sees the present policy in the country as an effort to form a civic Russian nation with one state language” as a move toward “the assimilation of the non-Russian peoples.”
In the course of his remarks, Iskhakov, who was a member of the nationalist Tatar Social Center from 1988 to 1882 before breaking with it and becoming a leader of the World Congress of Tatars, recalled that in the early 1990s, there were discussions in Kazan about “dividing Tatarstan into two parts, a Russian and a Tatar,” in order to preserve the Tatar language and avoid angering Russians.
Although something similar was tried in Bashkortostan, these discussions did not lead anywhere in Tatarstan, although Tatars occasionally recall them and view the idea as one like the arrangements in Belgium where the Flemmish and Walloons live in separate cultural and linguistic areas but within a single state.
As a result of the failure to move in that direction, Iskhakov said, “today as at the start of the 1990s, the cultural-linguistic space of Tatarstan remains Russian-speaking.” But that does not mean Tatar instruction should be cut back but rather the reverse, so that Russians will be more competitive and so Tatars won’t be radicalized.
At present, however, the trend is going in the other direction, something that means that while “the Tatars are well acquainted with the Russian world, the Russians know much worse the Tatar world” in which they find themselves.