Staunton, September 29 – Fearful Moscow will succeed in reducing their numbers either by counting as separate nationalities many of the 120 variants of “Tatar” on the list the Russian authorities have approved, the Tatarstan government is appealing to teachers of Tatars across the Russian Federation to urge students and their parents to declare themselves Tatars.
The Tatars, the second largest nationality in the country according to all recent censuses, face particular difficulties in this regard because a majority of the members of their nationality live outside Tatarstan and many of them are inclined to identify themselves other than Kazan Tatars, something that reduces the power and influence of Tatarstan.
That reality, Yan Gordeyev, the Tatarstan correspondent of Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” says, lies behind what happened yesterday at the Fifth Congress of Tatar Pedagogues,” a session where he suggests the most important developments had little to do with the theme of education (www.ng.ru/columnist/2010-09-29/6_tatary.html).
The most important speeches at the meeting of some 500 teachers from those regions “where there are Tatar diasporas – and this is about half of the subjects of the [Russian] Federation” -- were delivered by Zil Valeyev, Tatarstan’s first vice prime minister, and its parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin, who oversees “the nationality question” there.
Gordeyev noted that the teachers, after first meeting in sections, assembled in Kazan’s Kamal Theater, “the traditional place where the government of the republic holds congresses and forums one way or another devoted to the nationality question.” By shifting the meeting there, the Kazan authorities were underscoring the messages of Valeyev and Mukhametshin.
As their speeches showed, “the government of Tatarstan is seriously concerned with the problem of the artificial split of the Tatar people, something which could be reflected in the upcoming census of the Russian Federation,” given the “liberal” approach Moscow has adopted to national identity.
In earlier censuses, and especially in 2002, the Tatars were concerned by Moscow’s open campaign to reduce the number of their nation by playing up the distinctiveness of the Kryashens, people who Russian experts sometimes suggest are a separate nationality but who the Tatars believe are simply Orthodox Christian Tatars.
This time around, however, Kazan faces a different challenge. Rosstat has come up with a list of 120 different identities people who Kazan would view as Tatars may declare. In the view of many specialists in Kazan and some elsewhere, this arrangement while ostensibly neutral “threatens” to seriously reduce the number of people listed as Tatars in the census returns.
In recent weeks, Tatarstan officials have called upon “all Tatars to describe themselves only as Tatars and in no other way, thereby preserving their identity and strengthening their unity. Until about a month ago, this campaign was focused on the Tatars of Tatarstan, but now Kazan is looking beyond that republic’s borders.
Last month, it convened an all-Russian Congress of Tatar Youth and an all-Russian Congress of Religious Leaders. At both, Gordeyev says, the leaders of Tatarstan delivered the message that the members of those groups should try to convince all Tatars to declare themselves as such.
Now, Gordeyev says, Kazan is delivering “this simple but important thought” to teachers – and for what he suggests is a very good reason. “In many regions of Russia, the teacher of one’s native language is also ‘a national activist’ and has a great deal of authority among members of his or her community.”
Consequently, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says, “the government of Tatarstan is now making use of the activity and authority of these teachers for the solution of pressing political tasks,” just one of the ways in which political, ethnic and regional leaders are behaving in the run-up to the October census.