Vienna, March 22 – Moscow’s efforts over the past 15 years to prevent the authorities in the Republic of Tatarstan from reaching out to ethnic Tatars living elsewhere in the Russian Federation have opened the door to the rise of Islamist extremism among some of the latter and thereby threatened Russian national security.
In a speech earlier this week to a meeting attended not only by the heads of a variety of national-cultural autonomies (NCAs) but also by Volga Federal District chief Aleksandr Konovalov, Gayaz Zakirov, the head of the Tatar NCA, warned that the Russian government’s policy of restricting Kazan’s influence is backfiring.
“When we Tatars had our own mosques, medressahs, maktabs and civil schools throughout all of Russia,” Zakirov said, “there were no Muslim terrorists or extremists in Russia.” That is something that Russian leaders should reflect upon, he continued (http://www.islamnn.ru/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1631).
If Russian officials do so, the Tatar leader said, they would focus on “struggling with extremists and their Russian language literature and not with Tatar textbooks which celebrate the brotherhood of peoples and the great triumph of the Soviet people in the Fatherland War.”
These officials would recognize that when the Russian government worked with the Tatars and the Muslims, things went well for the country as a whole both in tsarist and Soviet times. But when, the regime worked against the Tatars and Muslims as it did in World War I, “out country lost.”
Unfortunately, Zakirov said, in the 1990s, there emerged what he refers to as “the Tishkov Doctrine,” a policy named for its author, Valeriy Tishkov, Yeltsin’s first nationalities minister and now, the influential director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnography and head of the Social Chamber’s commission on tolerance.
This “doctrine,” the Nizhniy Novgorod Tatar activist said, holds that, except for the Sabantui holiday, Kazan must not have any opportunity to influence ethnic Tatars living beyond its republic borders in the Russian Federation or defend them against russification.
The policies that flow from this “doctrine” have been remarkably successful: the number of pupils studying in the Tatar language outside of Tatarstan has fallen from 38,553 in 1990 to only 29,943 in 2003. Moreover, the Russian authorities have promoted via the census regional and religious divisions within the Tatar community.
And Zakirov continued, these Moscow efforts not only affect Tatars outside of Tatarstan but the government in Kazan itself as well. Over the last decade, Moscow has made some “beautiful gestures” toward Tatars and Muslims, but the Russian authorities have not gone beyond these by means of “real steps.”
Other NCA leaders at the meeting were equally explicit in their opposition to Moscow’s policy of restricting ties between members of specific ethnic groups and their ethnic homelands – including those lying beyond the borders of today’s Russian Federation.
Zaur Idrisov, who heads the NCA for Azerbaijanis in Nizhniy Novgorod, complained that Russian officials have done little to counter increasing instances of inter-ethnic hostility and even attacks by bands of “fascist-like youth” against his fellow ethnics.
Even more serious for the longer term, Idrisov suggested, is that Azeri children living in Russia have been “deprived of the opportunity to study their native language outside of their families” – while “at the same time, Russia demands this for the [ethnic] Russian minority in the Baltic countries.”
If Moscow continues its approach against ethnic groups outside their home territories, then, Idrisov warned, “we will simply be forced to establish organizations and social groups which will insist on our rights and represent the interests of our compatriots” just as the Russian government presumes to do.
To the extent the Azerbaijanis, of whom there are more than 1.5 million in the Russian Federation today, or other smaller groups might decide to go that route, the “Tishkov Doctrine” designed to limit the impact of ethnicity could end by having exactly the opposite effect.