Vienna, August 4 – Moscow’s increasingly harsh assimilatory policies, welcomed by many ethnic Russians as a defense of their dominance, not only are angering members of non-Russian groups but leading various minority groups to cooperate in new ways, a development that has the potential to become a nightmare for the central authorities.
That is because the central Russian government’s approach has been based on the principle of divide and rule, of setting one group against another, lest their coming together create a challenge beyond the capacity of the regime to respond without making the kind of concessions it does not want to make.
And nowhere in the Russian Federation is that danger greater than in the Middle Volga, the region through which almost all of Moscow’s transportation and communication links to Siberia and the Far East pass and the site of Stalin’s first attempt at ethnic engineering, when he worked to separate the Tatars and Bashkirs and end their ties with neighboring Finno-Ugrics.
For that region and because the United States in its 1959 Congressional Captive Nations Week resolution – marked every year in Washington since that time in the third week of July – includes a reference to the existence of Ideal-Ural, any effort there to build bridges among ethnic groups Moscow had divided is especially sensitive.
That has now happened.
On Saturday in Kazan, representatives of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples, the two largest linguistic groups of nations in the Russian Federation announced the formation of a new Coordinating Council for Idel-Ural, the traditional name for the region between the Volga and the Urals mountains (http://www.regrus.info/anounces/3/462.html).
For three reasons, this new body, despite the historical and emotional freight the name itself carries, is likely to prove move both symbolically and practically important in the immediate future even though up to now it has attracted relatively little attention beyond those most directly involved.
First of all – and almost certainly the most disturbing from Moscow’s point of view, the new body builds dramatically on the traditional understanding of Idel-Ural to include Finno-Ugric groups to the north, thus at least potentially bringing into the political fray those natural resource-rich peoples and making any challenge to Moscow that much more serious.
Second, the body builds on recent efforts by some of these Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples to come to the aid of another – including Tatar support for Khanty and Nentsy appeals to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (www.islamnews.ru/news-13294.html) – thus contributing to a Kremlin nightmare that non-Russian groups may be driven to cooperate against the center.
And third, the group’s plans as outlined in its founding document are ones that it could in principle realize rather than being the kind of pie-in-the-sky declaration typical of infuriated but ultimately marginal groups, an indication that its members hope to build from the ground up rather than simply to attract outside attention.
Specifically, the new Coordinating council said that its immediate tasks included “support for state organs of power in the development of an optimal nationality policy” for all peoples of the country, “monitoring of the observance of the rights of Russian Federation peoples,” and both sharing information and conducting “joint actions” in support of these goals.
“In this way,” the appeal ends, “the peoples of Idel-Ural have united for the defense of their national rights,” taking a step that the United States as long ago as 1959 supported in its Captive Nations Week resolution when it included “the indigenous peoples of Idel-Ural in the list of enslaved peoples.”
“The non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation who have lost their native languages, school, national cultures and histories are now forced to seek the help of the international community.” At “the brink of disappearance,” they await the help of that community as they enter “the arena of the struggle for their national rights.”
The signatories of these documents (which are to be published on idel-ural.on.ufanet.ru/) include V. K. Tubylov, president of Udmurt kenesh, R. T. Aznabayev, president of the World Bashkir Kurultai, M. V. Movsin, president of the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples, G. N. Arkhipov, president of the Chuvash National Congress, V. P. Vorontsov, vice president of the All-Mari Council, and Rinnat Z. Zakirov, president of the World Congress of Tatars.
Zakirov was named the council’s first chairman. Because the meeting took place in Kazan and because the Tatars have taken the lead in distributing the council’s documents, it appears likely that the Kazan Tatars are going to play the lead role in this new body at least initially, yet another indication that Moscow’s Russianization policies may backfire.
UPDATE: The complete texts of these declarations are available at tatarlar.ru/news.php?lng=ru&pg=10084 and mariuver.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/idel-ural/.