Sunday, February 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan Should Follow Kosovo’s Lead, Muslim Theorist Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 3 – In discussions of the possible impact of the independence of Kosovo on the Russian Federation, most commentaries have focused on the possibility that Moscow might extend diplomatic recognition to one of the so-called unrecognized states or that one or more republics in the North Caucasus might push for independence.
But now a Muslim writer has suggested that Kosovo should become a precedent for Tatarstan and other Turkic peoples on the territory of the Russian Federation, advancing in support of that idea both an original theory of national self-determination based on the Koran and a strategy based on contemporary international realities.
And while there is little evidence that many Tatars are prepared to press for independence now, the ideas Zul’fiya Kadir presents in the current issue of Zvezda Povol’zhya are likely to spark broader discussions about what they and other Muslim nations might do in the future (
Kadir, a Tatar who has studied in the West and now works as a political analyst at Kazan’s Institute of Ethnographic Monitoring, argues that Islam supports the principle of national self-determination because “in the hierarchy of human values” it supports, “the nation stands higher than the state.”
The Koran, she points out, mentions “people” and “nation” “hundreds of times, almost in every verse” but does not include the word “state” even once. That is because, she says, these human communities are “creations of God” whereas states are “an earthly invention, human and far from perfect.”
As a result, Kadir argues, “in the resolution of the eternal historical dilemma between ‘self-determination of the people or the integrity of the state,’ the expression of the will of the people must always be placed above the interests of the state” particularly if the state oppresses those living under it.
Indeed, whenever a people finds itself living under such a state, then that “people has the right to an independent path of development, to separation from that negative milieu and the creation of its own nation which would correspond to its national requirements,” the political analyst continues.
And “today, the Tatar people finds itself precisely in that position. The Russian state has not allowed the Tatars to develop” as a nation. Instead, it has created a situation in which “the Tatars find themselves in an ethnic blockade, spiritual imprisonment, and an evolutionary dead end out of which they must break at whatever the cost.”
The Tatars, of course, are not the only nations in the Russian Federation that find themselves in this situation, Kadir writes, and that is why Moscow is so opposed to the independence of Kosovo and why Moscow officials seek to frighten other governments by talking about “destabilization.”
“Russia itself consists of a multitude of ‘Kosovo republics’” and has always lacked “a unifying ideology for its subjects,” she writes. And because that remains the case today, “however often the United Russia Party shouts that Russia is one and indivisible, this is a lie” because “Russia is far from a united place.”
“No unifying concept like Russian patriotism exists, and no one can impose a love for the motherland by force, especially if that motherland is in essentials a prison house of peoples, the higher leadership of which consists entirely of representatives of the security services.”
Because of its greater coercive capacity, the Russian state has been able to impose its will on the Tatars, Kadir concedes, but she says that Tatars and other peoples living under Moscow’s yoke need to remember two things.
On the one hand, in many cases, their histories are much longer than that of Russia itself. They existed as human communities before the rise of the Russian state and thus without it, and they can exist after its demise as well, something many in these communities do not understand.
And on the other, Russia, which might have chosen to be the legal successor of the Golden Horde, instead “decided to become the legal successor of Byzantium, a civilization that represented the “’empire of evil’” of its time but was condemned to destruction by its own internal flaws.
Russia is repeating Byzantium’s course as shown by its “incompetent, corrupt and authoritarian power based on the use of state terror and force” against “indigenous peoples” whom its leaders view “not as free people with their own ethno-spiritual approach but only as aliens … or slaves of the empire.”
“But however hard the Soviet ideologues of internationalism tried to create an obedient, faceless bio-mass under the name of the Soviet (Russian) people and to impose a common stereotype of behavior on all of them, the Turkic peoples, and more precisely, the Tatars, always resisted this process.”
Not surprisingly, neither the Soviet government in the past nor the Russian government now is pleased when the Tatars insist that they are “not Russians,” that they have “a completely different ethno-spiritual mindset and consequently a different path of development,” one that no “elder brother,” however powerful, can destroy.
And consequently, she concludes, “today as never before the Tatar people has the right to proclaim its right to self-determination,” even though it is certain that Russia will “not recognize the strivings of the Tatars toward independence. In a prison, [the jailors] do not like a revolt.”
But that is not the end of the story, Kadir says, especially since Kosovo points to a possible opening for Tatarstan. “For the first time, the world powers despite all the principles of Realpolitik have supported not the strong but the weak,” in exactly the way any “real ‘elder brother’ should behave.”
And the Kazan political analyst adds, “it is already long past time for the Tatars and the other oppressed peoples of Russia to find themselves another ‘elder brother,’ a reliable defender who will protect them from the encroachments of their neighbor in the communal apartment” in which they find themselves trapped today.

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