Saturday, October 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kazan Again Challenges Putin’s ‘Common Legal Space’

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 25 –Tatarstan is again challenging Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed effort to establish a common legal space across the entire Russian Federation by considering legislation on the family that will establish very different rules for Tatars and pursuing educational policies that will reverse the Russianization of the education system there.
Whether these moves reflect a judgment in Kazan that Moscow is distracted or weakened by Georgia and the financial crisis, the impact of nationalist pressure from below or the last throw of the dice by longtime republic President Mintimir Shaimiyev or some combination of the above is unclear.
But one thing is certain: no republic government in the Russian Federation has gone further than Tatarstan to promote its distinctive national interests, and consequently, no republic is more likely to elicit an angry response from Moscow lest what Kazan has done become a model for the actions of other non-Russian and even predominantly Russian areas elsewhere.
This week, the State Council of Tatarstan approved on first reading a new family codex of laws. Among other things, it permits residents of that republic to marry at 16 or even earlier and to replace Russianized names like those ending in “-ev” with Tatar names derived from their parents or even grandparents (
Thus, for example, Iskhakov will become Iskhaki, and patronymics ending in “ovich” (for men) or “ovna” (for men) will end in “-uly” or “-kyzy” respectively, a shift that will make Tatars more distinct from Russians and undoubtedly trigger a new wave of demands that Tatarstan move toward a Latin script rather than a Cyrillic-based one.
Such an outcome is even more likely given the ethnic particularism on display in the linguistic and curriculum policies Kazan has been pursuing in the country’s educational system under the stewardship of republic education and science minister Nail Valeyev (
According to Valeyev, just under half (47.6 percent) of the students in Tatarstan are studying Tatar, a language that is taught in “all the general education schools of the republic.” He said that Kazan had asked parents whether they would like to have additional hours devoted to the study of Tatar.
“Unfortunately,” he told the State Council, “letters came back” in which parents expressed their opposition to such a step. Consequently, he said, the government was working to promote Tatar not only to overcome that resistance but because the number of Tatar-language schools has fallen by almost a third since 2004.

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