Sunday, December 17, 2017

Kazan Intellectuals Call for Creating an All-Russian Tatar Party Now

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 – Given the Tatarstan government’s unwillingness to resist Moscow’s pressure and despite federal laws against ethnic and religious parties, several leading intellectuals of Tatarstan are calling for the creation of an All-Russian Tatar Party to mobilize Tatars within the republic and beyond its borders.

            Rafael Khakimov, the former advisor to Mintimir Shaymiyev and long-time director of the Kazan Institute of History, has been promoting this idea; and it has generated widespread discussion on social networks. Now, commentator Ramzil Valeyev has laid out his support for such a move in an article for Business-Gazeta (

            “Everyone knows,” Valeyev begins, “that it is impossible to organize a party of a purely national type” or even a regional one. “But never the less, party construction in the interests of the republic and the Tatar people are important because the existing parties and their divisions … live in their own closed world” and ignore outsiders, including the Tatar nation.

            Someone needs to begin defending the interests of Tatarstan and of the Tatars of Russia as a whole, “especially now” when the nation finds itself in such a difficult situation.  And the numbers of people involved, including those married to Tatars and those who live among them, are far larger than many think.

            But “alas” the number of Tatar speakers is declining and some in Moscow like Valery Tishkov and Olga Artemenko think that those who give up the language should change their ethnic identity because to do anything else is a mark of separatism and a threat to the territorial integrity of the country, Valeyev says.

            Someone must appear to counter such notions, and a new organization is needed “if existing parties and deputies controlled from above are silent,” the Tatar intellectual continues. And time is of the essence: “To unite and express an opinion is what ordinary people need now -- when the constitutions of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tatarstan are still in force and when languages and nationalities are not yet done away with by degree.”

            We Tatars “are not sheep waiting for Kurban-Bayram. We are a people and not within a statistical margin of error: two million Tatars live in Tatarstan alone, another million in Bashkortostan, and another two to three million in other regions,” not to mention communities across Russia and the world.

            Moreover, Valeyev says, we are “indigenous civic Russians” and aren’t going anywhere. We are a donor republic: we simply want our rights recognized and protected.  We have just as much right to demand our language be respected as Russian speakers do in the Baltic countries, but Moscow respects only the latter demands.

             One can fully understand Khakimov’s advocacy of a party, Valeyev says; but it is less important whether it is called a party, something that would require a change in Russian law, or a social movement which would not. But a party is certainly possible if it is not purely Tatar but ethnically neutral as existing law would require as long as it promoted Tatar concerns.

            There are serious limitations in the work of popular fronts, social centers, and autonomies because their leaders have been discredited in the minds of many. A new movement or party, “a Tatar Party (social organization) must be above regional, group, class and even religious preferences.”

            Tatars “must find a variant which allows them to get around without the problems of registration, assemblies and congresses,” Valeyev says. “It is possible to begin already today, via the Internet.” The problems Tatars now face are very real, and the neglect of these problems by existing parties is all too palpable. As a result, Tatars need to organize and act now. 

Could Regional, Republic or Soviet Flags Take the Place of Banned Russian One at Olympiad?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 -- As punishment for the Russian government’s doping program, the International Olympic Committee has declared that Russian athletes who do take part cannot march under the Russian flag but must instead compete under a neutral flag. Many Russians are outraged by this, but their outrage has generated some interesting proposals.

            Russians are among those who support an idea being floated by others that no national flags should appear at these international sporting events given that individual athletes are competing rather than nations (

            But more intriguingly, some Russians have proposed that the Russian athletes march under the flags of the former Soviet Union ( or of the regions or republics of the ( and

            The most prominent figure to make the argument for regional flags has been Altai Senator Vladimir Poletayev who urged “Russian sportsmen to take to the winter Olympiad of 2018 the flags of their own regions instead of the [Russian] tricolor.” His suggestion may have support among ethnic groups and regionalists, but at least some Russians are furious.

            Among Poletayev’s most vocal critics are Chelyabinsk oblast sports minister Leonid Oder, Urals Olympian Ivan Alypov, and figure-skating coach Tatyana Tarasova (

            Oder said the Altai senator should “trust the professionals” on this, especially since he had never spent “a single day in big sports” and therefore “does not have the moral right to make such proposals.”  According to the regional minister, “no one will give the right to officially put the flags of the regions on a flagpole” and hanging them would be like “gypsies in a bazaar.”

            Alypov said that Poletayev was engaging in “populism.” If the senator wants to go to South Korea with an Altay flag, he is within his rights; but the Olympics is governed by rules and regional flags aren’t allowed. And Tarasova said that such issues must be decided by the participating countries and not by some low-level officials.

            Despite this opposition, the fact that proposals have surfaced to make use of regional and republic flags shows that these symbols are not matters of irrelevance to many residents of the Russian Federation and that some of these people are now looking for opportunities to display them, something they believe the IOC has given them.

Emptying Out of Rural Areas Seen Undermining Russia’s National Security

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 – Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s recent suggestion that there are “15 million superfluous people” in rural Russia and former minister Aleksey Kudrin’s call for restructuring the country around a small number of urban agglomerations has sparked a lively debate on the future of the country outside the big cities.

            Aleksey Firsov, head of the Platform Center for Social Prognostication, provides a detailed discussion of the arguments for allowing the rural areas off the country to continue to empty out of people and those for trying to slow that trend or even reverse it (

            Firsov’s most unsettling conclusion at least as far as Moscow is concerned is that the emptying out of the rural areas of the Russian Federation will adversely affect the country’s national security and the ability of the central government not only to hold things together but to counter any invasion by a foreign power.

            According to the analyst and the experts he spoke with and cites, those who favor amalgamation consider the issue from the point of view of economics rather than culture or security, while those who support the existing “small territories” consider that there are arguments “more important than economics.”

            Those who favor amalgamation and letting the rural areas die out make three arguments: first, this will address regional inequality; second, it will improve the quality of life of residents as measured in economic terms; and third, it will counter what such people view as “the low level of initiative” in rural areas and small cities.
            Those who oppose amalgamation and seek to hold the population in rural areas also make three arguments: first, they say that this is a question of national security – “what and who will occupy the space between the agglomerations?” – second, people are attached to the localities; and third, Moscow doesn’t have enough accurate data to move forward.

            Firsov clearly opposes amalgamation and calls for the economic development of rural areas and small cities which he suggests can become sources of innovative change and diversity, something larger agglomerations may fail to do. Moreover, their existence can promote both security and decentralization, both of which Russia needs.

            Unfortunately, he concludes, “now is not the time for the final solution of the issue of small territories.” Thus, “Russia is not ready to turn away from small cities; and this means that their interests must be more carefully considered at the federal level” than they are today.