As young Tatars die in Ukraine, many others now want to split from Moscow

Although independence is not on the agenda of the Moscow-controlled World Congress of Tatars, interest in Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev, one of the fathers of modern Tatarstan purged by Stalin, is reviving. Many Tatars are tilting against Putin's neo-imperialist ideology.

Aug 04, 2022

By Vladimir Rozanskij

Putin's war in Ukraine has seen many young Tatars sent to the front to die in great numbers, only to have their bodies repatriated almost furtively. This, in turn, is reviving a strong separatist mood among Tatars, some of whom would like to see a complete break from the Russian Federation.

The World Congress of Tatars (WCT), an organisation created after the end of the Soviet regime in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, is currently celebrating 30 years of activity, at a very critical moment in recent history.

According to Kazan-based political scientist Ruslan Aysin, “the Tatar nation is currently very divided. One side, those tied to the political establishment, supports Moscow's aggression against Kyiv, while the majority is opposed to the current regime.”

The current WCT meeting is sticking to the Putin line defended by the United Russia party and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), backing the war without heeding the views of the seven million Tatars in Russia and the world.

Tatars are officially part of the Russian world, a hint to the rebirth of Holy Russia against medieval Asian invaders. But most pro-autonomy Tatar intellectuals and ordinary Tatars have left the country long ago, leaving the WCT in Moscow’s control.

It was initially established as a transnational organisation to allow Tatars in the homeland and the diaspora to connect.

Organisers of this year’s meeting kept some sensitive topics off the agenda, like the use and teaching of the Tatar language, and matters that touched the social and cultural development of the Tatar people.

The previous meeting was held five years ago, and when many still hoped for a major change after 25 years of relative autonomy within Russia, but now it is but a façade giving nothing to grassroots expectations.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Tatar National Council (Milli Shura) was re-established, echo of the organisation Muslim Tatars founded more than 100 years in Petrograd in May 1917, shortly after the February Revolution but later suppressed by the Bolsheviks.

The Council wanted to set up world union for the Tatar people. Now the past is making a comeback with renewed interest in Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev, one of the founding fathers of modern Tatarstan. Born 130 years ago, he ended up a victim of Stalin’s purges.

Popular among Tatars, Sultan-Galiev backed the project of a Tatar nation, supporting it even during the power struggles in the early years of the Soviet Union.

He was able to get the Communist Party to respect Islam in Ural region and combine it with the ideals of socialism and Bolshevism against colonialism and greater Russian chauvinism, a position that was supported by Lenin in the 1920s, and later coopted by Stalin when he came to exert absolute power.

Galiev was among the founders of the University of the Peoples of the East, where he taught to a large following. His political and cultural influence spread far beyond the Ural region; in fact, both Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Ali are said to have had a picture of him next to them in their office.

Although he was eventually crushed at home, his legacy is still nurtured in several Arab countries and in Turkey, where new books about him are regularly published.

Despite formal meetings by official Tatar organisations under Moscow’s thumb and neo-imperial ideology, the defence of Islam and Tatar national identity echo anew in Kazan, Ufa and elsewhere in the world. Indeed, the distortions that have led to the Ukrainian tragedy are driving a certain review of history as much in Ukraine as in Tatarstan whose effects will be felt for a long time.--Asia News

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