The World Congress of Tatars, an organization created 20 years ago to link Tatarstan with ethnic Tatars living outside the borders of that Middle Volga republic and one that has been closely tied to Kazan’s intellectual and political elite, has called for Tatarstan to seek membership in the United Nations. This appeal recalls “the parade of sovereignties” that led to the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and has infuriated Moscow as well as ethnic Russian commentators.
At its fifth international meeting in Kazan on December 7–9, the World Congress of Tatars adopted a resolution intended to ensure the survival and flourishing of the Tatars and by implication other non-Russians in the Russian Federation. Among its provisions was a call for ending all efforts to reduce the status of or even eliminate the non-Russian republics, ensure that non-Russian languages will remain required subjects for all pupils in those territories, change the alphabet of Tatar from one based on the Cyrillic script to one based on the Latin script, and to retain the office of president for Tatarstan (tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2012/12/v_8.html; tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2012/12/20.html; www.ng.ru/regions/2012-12-10/2_tatarstan.html).
All of these efforts go against either Russian legislation or Russian policy and can be expected to anger many in Moscow. But the additional appeal for Tatarstan, a constituent part of the Russian Federation under the 1993 Constitution but not a signatory to the Federation Treaty, to seek membership in the United Nations is the most dramatic challenge to current political arrangements in Russia. Indeed, it is so dramatic that it is unlikely that Kazan at the official level will pursue it, even if, as the discussions at the World Congress meeting suggest, many Tatar officials and ordinary citizens support it either for tactical or strategic reasons.
On the one hand, a majority of all Tatars likely support all the other provisions of the resolution, and many of their leaders are quite prepared to use the threat of an appeal to the UN as a warning to Moscow of what will happen if the Kremlin continues its assault on federalism. But on the other, as was the case 20 years ago, at least some Tatars are now ready to talk about the pursuit of state independence and to test the waters by proposing membership in the United Nations.
At least for the time being, Moscow is in a position to block Tatars who would like to see their republic become a full independent member of the international community. But it is significant that Moscow commentators are taking the World Congress declaration as a serious statement of Kazan’s intentions and are all the more furious as a result. And this reaction is especially important to note because it suggests some of the ways the Kremlin is likely to respond to such efforts, lest Tatarstan in this as in so much else becomes a bellwether for the other non-Russian republics—first in the Middle Volga and then in the Russian Federation as a whole.
An article by Ivan Gladilin posted today, December 11, on the KM.ru portal reflects the way in which Tatarstan’s actions are seen in Moscow, why the World Congress resolution has infuriated the Russian center, and what at least some in Moscow view as the levers the center can use against this new challenge from Kazan (www.km.ru/v-rossii/2012/12/11/prava-i-tsennosti-russkogo-naseleniya-rossii/699308-tselostnost-rossii-po-tatars).
According to Gladilin, the resolution of the World Congress of Tatars “at first glance” looks like the work of “marginal extremists, to whom it is not worth paying attention. But this is not the case,” he insists. Instead, the World Congress of Tatars has been “supported in every possible way by the authorities of the republic,” and consequently, Congress declarations must be viewed as a statement of Kazan’s intentions.
Not only do Tatarstani officials and scholars take part in the Congress meetings, but “one of the members of the executive committee” of the Congress is none other than “the grandmother of Tatar separatism,” Fauziya Bayramova, the current head of the republic’s Milli Mejis, the MN.ru writer says. And he asks that his readers remember that she has declared that “the Russia state is built on the tragedy of the Tatar people and on Tatar blood and it continues to exist thanks to energy resources taken from the depths of the Tatar lands.”
At present, Gladilin continues, the Tatars have transformed their republican government into an “ethnocracy” in which ethnic Tatars occupy 80 percent of the posts even though they represent only about half of the population. And it is indicative that “of the 19 ministers” in the republic’s government, “only two are [ethnic] Russians,” an arrangement Gladilin implies Moscow should work to change.
Ethnic Russians living in Tatarstan itself are especially anxious for that to happen. Aleksandr Salagayev, the head of the Society of Russian Culture of Tatarstan—a body that Gladilin says somewhat disingenuously is “the only [ethnic] Russian national organization in the region”—has even declared that Russians now find themselves abused in what they view as their own country and notes that Kazan has been acting more like an independent state than a federal subject. Moreover, he says, Kazan recently blocked a Novosibirsk delegation from coming into Tatarstan because the members of that group wanted to meet ethnic Russians in the republic.
In response to this situation, Moscow may very well conduct a purge of Tatar officials. Indeed, an article posted on Interfax-religion.ru today attacking the former head of Bashkortostan for allowing the emergence of extremism there represents an implicit warning to the past and current leaders of the much more influential Republic of Tatarstan that if they continue on the current path, they too may be subject to attack and even dismissal (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=radio&div=1860).