ISSN 2330-717X

Tatars Raise The Stakes On Language Issue – OpEd


An initiative group in Tatarstan has announced plans to form an alliance with one or another candidate in the Russian presidential race and to seek the inclusion on the ballot of a referendum on Vladimir Putin’s drive to make instruction in all languages except Russian voluntary.

Radik Gatin, a former advisor to the Duma’s security committee, tells the Idel Ural portal that he and several others are in the process of putting the group together because the republic elite has been unable to stand up to Moscow on this issue and will be exploring various possibilities to defend the rights of Tatars (

He continues that his group is “ready to cooperate with those presidential candidates and political forces ‘that have influence on this issue and declare their willingness to cooperate.” And he indicated that the Tatar appeal will be based on “the generally recognized international legal principle that ‘no one ever can limit someone in his ethnic membership.’”

The exact content of the measure that his group seeks to have a referendum about will be defined later, Gatin says, with the group prepared to modify the language so that the authorities in Kazan and Moscow will be more willing to allow it to go forward.

“We plan to submit documents about the registration of the initiative group for the referendum before the presidential elections” on March 18, and “we have conducted consultations with all the leaders of public opinion at the level of the republic and the federation,” the organizer says.

Gatin says the group will not include radicals even though many of them have expressed an interest in being part of it. Obviously, the group will be open to conversations with such people but they will not be allowed to make its work so radical that the authorities will have an excuse to suppress it.

Precisely because of calculations of this kind, the group represents a significant challenge to Putin, one that he will find it more difficult to counter than he may think. As a result, an issue that many have declared closed because of Putin’s position is anything but; and the stakes involved have become far greater.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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