Sunday, January 22, 2012

Volga Republics - Tatarstan

There are several ethnic republics in the Volga region, the most militant of which is Tatarstan The Tatars, with 3.75 percent of the population, are the largest minority ethnic group in Russia. They make up just under half of Tatarstan's population, although only a quarter of all Russia's Tatars live in the republic. Located about 500 miles (805km) from Moscow, Tatarstan is a vital territorial link holding Russia together. Major roads, railroads, and oil pipelines all cross its territory.

Ivan the Terrible conquered the Tatars and their capitol of Kazan in 1552, and, over the next 440 years, they became the most Russified of the former Soviet Union's Muslim Turkic-speaking peoples. In fact, there was considerable intermarriage between Tatars and Russians. Yet in the early 1990's, a powerful national revival emerged in Tatarstan. Early in 1992,it refused, along with the republic of Chechnya, to sign Yeltsin's Federal Treaty that was designed to maintain Russian unity while permitting some local autonomy. In 1993, after adopting its own constitution Tatarstan declared itself a "sovereign state". At the same time, it stopped short of declaring its independence. In 1994 Moscow and Kazan worked out a compromise that appears to be working. Tatarstan won broad authority, including some power over taxes and its natural resources. After the 1994 agreement, it increasingly was drawn into the orbit of the overall Russian economy. Most of the republic's people seemed to agree that Tatarstan's stability and prosperity are inseparable from remaining a part of the broader Russian economy.

At the same time some developments in Tatarstan continued to worry the Kemlin. In 2000, Tatarstan adopted a law calling for the Tatar language to be written in the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet used to write Russian and other Slavic languages. The law called for the process to take place over a decade, a beginning with written work in the public schools. This clearly was a step to assert cultural independence and Russian authorities worried it might feed secessionist sentiment that had bubbled up in the early 1990's. President Putin's response came in December 2002, when he signed a federal law making Cyrillic the compulsory alphabet for languages across Russia. The law contained a clause that provided for exceptions under limited circumstances, but it also left no doubt that Moscow intended to keep Tatarstan snugly within the Russian Federation.

from Russia by Michael Kort 2004

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