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.

Magnitsky’s Jailor Now Member of Russian Penal Monitoring Group

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – In yet another disturbing development, one that recalls the idea of putting the fox in charge of guarding the chicken coop, the Russian body established in the 1990s to allow the public to monitor prisons has dropped human rights activists and installed instead Dmitry Komnov, boss of the Butyrka prison when Sergey Magnitsky died in custody.

            Komnov was removed from that position when it became obvious that Magnitsky had succumbed because the Russian authorities had not provided him the medical care he needed. The former jailor figures on the US Magnitsky List. But now he is making a comeback in Putin’s Moscow (

            Not only is this a display of contempt by the Kremlin for Russia’s already hard-pressed human rights community and a guarantee that conditions in Russia’s penal institutions will become even worse, but it is a slap at the United States and other Western countries who have called attention to the Magnitsky case as a measure of official malfeasance in Russia today.

            The Russian prison monitoring body has the right “to visit places of forced incarceration, to speak with prisoners, to take part in the discussion about moving convicts. [It] also considers appeals about the violation of human rights [in Russian prisons and camps] and can appeal to organs of power, social organizations and the media.”

            Despite restrictions, it has achieved a great deal. But one can only imagine the role it will play without the human rights activists who had been on this body and with the presence of the notorious former jailor in their stead.

            Russian human rights activists are already calling this development the destruction of  penal oversight.  Valery Borshchev, the author of the law on public supervision of the penal system, told “Novaya gazeta” that Komnov’s appointment was part of “a special operation for the destruction of public supervision” of Russia’s penal system (

            Eva Merkacheva, a commentator for “Moskovsky komsomolets,” posted on her Facebook page that as a result of this decision, “there will be bodies, there will be tortures, there will be much grief and tears” because there won’t be any “real defense of human rights.”  She expressed the hope that Komnov’s election would be revisited (

            And Anna Karetnikova, a longtime human rights activist, asked on her Facebook account whether this constituted a declaration of war by the regime against prisoners. “Who took this decision? Who benefits?” She called on journalists to focus on this because “now everything depends only on you” (

Sakha Constitutional Court Rules ‘All the Territory of Yakutia is the Historical Motherland of the Yakut People’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – On Friday, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) handed down a decision that may trigger what challenges Moscow’s view of the country and that many Russians and non-Russians are likely to see as ushering in a new parade of sovereignties by the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation.

            The court declared that “all the territory of Yakutia is the historical motherland of the Yakut people,” a finding that echoes for that enormous republic in the Russian Far East calls among Russians for a ‘Russia for the [ethnic] Russians” (

            The decision came about in the following way:  Mikhail Gabyshev, a deputy in the republic’s parliament, asked the court to clarify the meaning of Article 42 of the republic constitution in which “the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) guarantees the preservation and re birth of the indigenous peoples [of the republic] as well as of Russians and other older residents who respect the traditions, culture and customs of the native peoples” of the republic.

            In an appeal to the republic’s constitutional court, Gabyshev said that these “constitutional norms are being interpreted in various ways” and that this has limited the development of the republic’s legislation to protect the native population.  He asked the court to clarify matters.

            The court held a hearing on his request on October 12 and nine days later issued its explanation.  The justices declared the following:

·         First, the court declared that the first paragraph of Article 42 of the republic’s constitution legally means “the recognition of the territory of Yakutia as the native land and historical motherland of the Yakut people, the source of its economic well-being, its unique cultural and linguistic identity” as a legal structure within the Russian state.

·         Second, the justices held that the second paragraph of Article 42 should be understood as providing the foundation for the protection of “the complete set of natural collective rights of the indigenous people of Yakutia” on the territory of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)” and provides for the maintenance of “its territorial unity, socio-economic, state-legal, national-cultural and linguistic identity.”

·         Third, the justices held that the entire article is intended to “guarantee the preservation and rebirth of the indigenous peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) which involves all the actions taken by the organs of state power of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) directed at the realization of these goals under conditions of the observation of the principle of constitutional-legal equality and with regard to the numerically small indigenous peoples on the basis of the possibility of legally establishing preferential rights for their preservation and development.”

·         And fourth, the justices said that Article 42 must be read as requiring the development of such measures for the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North and the defense and securing of their inalienable rights.”  And they specified that this ruling was obligatory for all state agencies in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

At the very least, this decision puts the republic authorities on a collision course with Moscow and with Russian firms and organizations which in recent years have run roughshod over the rights of the numerically small indigenous populations of the Russian Far North. But its ultimate consequences are likely to be far larger.

Other non-Russian republics inside the borders of the Russian Federation are likely to be inspired by this in two ways. On the one hand, officials in them will be under some pressure from their populations to follow suit.  And on the other, activists will see that at least in principle, they can make use of the courts to achieve their ends.