Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moscow Working to Make Non-Russian Nations ‘Disappear,’ Tatar Dramatist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – Mansur Gilyazov, perhaps Tatarstan’s leading dramatist, says that “enormous institutions in Moscow are now working so that the [non-Russian] nations will disappear” because in their view “Russia doesn’t need a multi-national country … in the largest and political sense.”

            Unfortunately, he says in the course of an interview with Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta,” these institutions “are working successfully.” And many assume that the non-Russians can do little or nothing to oppose them and thus are fated to disappear much as Gayaz Iskhaki warned more than a century ago (

            Iskhaki, a Tatar modernist writer and activist, warned in a 1904 book, “Ike ioz eldan son inkyras” (“Disappearance After 200 Years”) that if trends in place then continued, the Tatar nation would disappear in 200 years. (The book has been reprinted and a Russian text is at

            Gilyazov says that Iskhaki “was a great man who understood very exactly what is taking place with the Tatar people, and his novel in which the end comes in 200 years is very symbolic. He was an artist and he exaggerated … But one must pay close attention to what he wrote,” although “this doesn’t mean” that the end of the Tatar nation will occur in century.

            Moscow’s efforts to eliminate non-Russian languages and the non-Russian nations who speak them need not succeed, the dramatist says, even if it ends all instruction in these languages and seeks to freeze out of the public space all use of languages other than Russian.

            That is demonstrated by the Roma who “have no schools or textbooks or anything else but who all know their native language perfectly well.” Their secret, Gilyazov says, is that they have in their community “’meg’ne,” the Volga Tatar word for “meaning;” and “all of their life is based on their native language.

            Up to the present, the Tatars have not been able to do the same, he argues, “because we still do not have a grandiose and meaningful commitment to the preservation, development and extension of our language, because our president peacefully speaks Russian,” and because “the rest also speak Russian” instead of Tatar.

             The situation for the Tatars and their language under Stalin was different not because the Soviet dictator was an ethnic Georgian but because he was committed to an ideological agenda in which there was in principle no language or nation better than another. But that of course had negative consequences too.

            “With time,” Gilyazov says, “naturally languages began to be reduced in their diversity and there was a destruction or a devaluation of all national cultures. But at that time, it was completely impossible to destroy national cultures.” Now, the state has greater possibilities and is not limited by a supra-national ideology.

            Despite all the current difficulties the Tatar language and the Tatar nation face, Gilyazov says that he has reason for confidence in the rebirth of both rather than their demise.  “My children are religious, they say their prayers, although I didn’t teach them. [They] are more Tatar than I am, and I am very glad of this.”

            Just how difficult a task they face, however, is underscored by recent findings that 95 percent of the visual information presented in Kazan is presented in Russian, two percent in English and only three percent in Tatar and that 98 percent of official business is conducted in Russian (

            Based on those figures, Iskhaki’s prediction seems more justified than Gilyazov’s.  But the power of a nation to survive especially when it is under pressure and even if it loses its native language in one generation is far greater than many imagine, including those who think that closing national schools and cutting national language broadcasts will solve their problems.

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