RFE/RL Broadcasts Save Non-Russian Schools in Tatarstan

By Paul Goble

Those who doubt the enormous power and continuing importance of international broadcasting to the post-Soviet countries should consider the case of five Tatar-language and two Mari-language schools in the Republic of Tatarstan, in the Russian Federation. Republic officials, under pressure from Moscow, had decided to close them in the name of economic efficiency but, according to the mayor of the town where the schools are located, they have now been saved because of reporting by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Salagish Mayor Aydar Khosnetdinov sent a letter to RFE/RL expressing his gratitude for the Tatar-Bashir Service, known as Radio Azatliq, and its contribution to keeping these Tatar- and Mari-language schools open in the Middle Volga. His letter added that this success gives hope that Tatar schools will survive the Russian campaign under the guise of “consolidation” to close them (for Khosnetdinov’s letter, see azatliq.org/content/article/24979225.html; for an English rendering of that letter and a discussion of its meaning, see rferl.org/content/impact-tatar-schools-financial-optimization/25007680.html).
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service had received and posted on its website comments from former students who said that officials had lied about their schools. These students had only positive things to say about their places of learning, including about the state of inter-ethnic relations there. According to Mayor Khosnetdinov, Radio Azatliq’s broadcasts compelled the republic’s education ministry to keep these schools open, even as Moscow closes non-Russian schools in many places where no such Western broadcasts are heard.
If many in the West are now uncertain of the power of such broadcasts, few in Russia and the neighboring region have any doubts about it. The editors of the Russian nationalist website Third Rome, for example, said last week (June 19) that Tatar nationalists and separatists were gaining support “not only at the local level” but from Radio Azatliq based in Prague and were being “officially financed” by the United States Congress (3rm.info/36341-tatarstan-gotovitsya-otdelitsya-ot-rossii.html).
According to this Russian nationalist outlet, Radio Azatliq’s broadcasts are contributing to “a powerful outburst of nationalism and separatism” in Tatarstan and that Tatars are once again calling—as they did in 1991—for their country to expel “all Russian occupiers” and form an independent Tatarstan that would include not only the current republic “but a number of oblasts of Russia “on the territory of which” the Golden Horde once ruled.
Moreover, the Third Rome site continued, Tatars have even picketed in front of what it incorrectly called “the embassy of Turkey in the center of Kazan,” which is, in fact, a consulate. At the time, the site said, Tatar nationalists marched under banners that proclaimed “Turkey! Help the Turkic Peoples of Russia to Preserve Their Rights and Traditions” and “A Linguistic, Spiritual, Cultural and Silent Genocide of the Turkic Peoples is Taking Place in Russia! Turkey, Do Not Be Silent!” Notably, international broadcasters can report on these developments when local media are prevented from doing so.

And in another measure of the power of Western broadcasts, RFE/RL reported last week that Baku officials appear to have begun jamming its satellite broadcasts in Azerbaijani, a violation of international telecommunications rules (rferl.org/content/release-interference-with-rferl-signal-to-azerbaijan/25023524.html). The more authorities in the post-Soviet space want to silence international broadcasting to their countries, the more apparent the continued influence of these outlets such as RFE/RL becomes.