Eurasia: Financial Crisis May Force Moscow to Make Concessions to Non-Russians

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Nov 19 12:42:17 UTC 2008

Window on Eurasia: Financial Crisis May Force Moscow to Make
Concessions to Non-Russians

Paul Goble

Kuressaare, November 18 – Despite the human suffering it is bringing,
the current financial crisis may force Moscow to make concessions to
non-Russian groups because in the past, the Russian government –
tsarist, Soviet and post-Soviet -- has done so "only when the state
has serious problems," according to a senior Tatar politician. In an
interview with, Razil' Valeyev, who chairs the
nationality policy committee in the State Council of the Republic of
Tatarstan, pointed out that Moscow created the non-Russian republics
after the 1917 revolution and opened "hundreds" of non-Russian
language newspapers during World War II
Consequently, Valeyev argued, one should not exclude the possibility
that as the economic crisis deepens, it will lead the central
government to address some of the problems of the non-Russians in the
country, perhaps in the first instance reversing what he calls the
"unconstitutional" elimination of non-Russian courses from required
educational programs.

If the law goes into force, Regions and republics would still be
allowed to offer non-Russian language and local history courses, but
they would no longer be able to require them. And consequently, some
students and their parents would thus be inclined to choose to study
other courses instead, something that would strike a blow at many
non-Russian groups. "The exclusion of the national-regional component
from the federal education standards [scheduled to take place in 2009]
directly contradicts the Russian Constitution," he said. "And if we do
not follow the provisions of our own constitution as any state based
on law does, then what kind of a country are we?"

Valeyev pointed out that Tatarstan has been fighting this step for
several years and not long ago sent an appeal not only to Moscow but
to all the federal subjects asking that it be reversed as
unconstitutional. So far, he says, 21 other subjects – including some
Russian ones -- support Tatarstan's position, but until recently, it
seemed unlikely Moscow would change course. One of the reasons the
Russian government has adopted this policy, the Tatar State Council
committee chairman continues, is that "empire-forming peoples cannot
understand the problems of other peoples." While there are exceptions,
of course, "the majority of government officials are not among them."

Asked whether he was fighting against globalization, Valeyev said that
"globalization is affecting everyone and not just the Tatars," and
many Tatars now send their children to Russian language schools so
that they can pursue the careers that such educations offer in the
country as a whole.
Even more will do so if non-Russian subjects become optional because
they will see that Moscow has a negative attitude toward national
education and "understand that if they do not change, their children
will not become part of contemporary realities and participate in the
state's mentality."
There are other reasons parents are making these decisions. Many Tatar
schools were opened only a few years ago and often lack the facilities
Russian-language schools there have. That has made the Turkic-Tatar
lycees that Ankara opened in the republic far more important than they
otherwise would be, lycees that Moscow unfortunately is trying to

Asked to respond to suggestions that Tatar national identity is too
focused on the past rather than the future, Valeyev said that peoples
like the Tatars who have been deprived of statehood and who fear they
may not recover it naturally look back to the time when they had it,
especially if they have been denied the chance to do so as the Tatars
were in Soviet times. Valeyev said that the Tatars do not want the
Russian Federation to fall apart but rather to be strengthened,
however much Russian nationalists think otherwise, but at the same
time, he noted, the Tatars want Moscow to respect their constitutional
rights, something the center is not always doing.

But "if Russia wants to preserve its future and to be strengthened,
then it must turn particular attention "to the issues the Tatars
raise. "We are not going to go anywhere, we do not have a second
state." And consequently, Tatars and Russians must cooperate if they
are to have a good future together.
At present, Valeyev stressed, Tatarstan is "resolving many questions
more or less normally. We are concerned most of all about the status
of Tatars living beyond the borders of the republic [where most ethnic
Tatars live and] who have enormous problems in the sphere of
preserving language and culture."  "If Russia were to adopt a new,
democratic conception of nationality policy … and the laws and decrees
needed for its realization, then there would not be any special
problems" in the relationship between Moscow and Kazan, Valeyev said,
adding that "I have not lost hope that we despite everything will come
to that."

"Russia too ought to have an instinct for self-preservation," he
continued. If, however, it is completely lost, then additional
complications will appear. But the process of the rebirth of national
consciousness is not something that happens over night." Thus, there
is time, but it is not unlimited, perhaps no more than "20 or 30
years." Russia needs to become what it is, the common home of Slavic
and Turkic peoples, he argued in conclusion. And he said that was not
as impossible as it might seem: "Who could have thought that the
Soviet Union would fall apart and in its place would arise independent
states – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and so on, not to
mention Abkhazia and South Ossetia."
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