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Nation, Language, Islam

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Helen M. Faller

Chapter 2. What Tatarstan Letters to the Editor (1990–1993) Reveal about the Unmaking of Soviet People

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“In a word, the people voiced their opinion quite strongly in the referendum. Let us not give in to those who have sold their souls, to chauvinists or to adventurers!”
Letter to the Editor, Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul, April 28, 1993, page 2.

1These lines, from a letter to the editor written by a Tatar living in Moscow and published in Tatarstan’s Tatar-language former Communist Party newspaper, reveal a passion for Tatarstan sovereignty during its heyday in the early 1990s that the newspapers’ editors and Tatarstan government officials wished to have circulated among readers. Prior to glasnost and perestroika the Tatar- and Russian-language press in Tatarstan was effectively one. Indeed, Tatar-language articles were often translations of pieces published in the Russian-language press. However, by 1990—the year Tatarstan declared sovereignty—Tatar-language letters to the editor evoked an imagined political order based upon a particularly Tatar discursive world. Certainly, differences between Tatar and Russian discursive worlds didn’t suddenly spring into existence in the late 1980s. Tatar-speakers and Russian-speakers constituted different, if overlapping, speech communities prior to the social and political turmoil caused by Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempted reforms. But, by and large, people in Tatarstan and other regions of the Soviet Union shared, or at least thought they shared, discourse in common.

  • 1 It might be argued that perestroika never took place, since the Soviet Union collapsed before any (...)

2Perestroika had negligible political impact.1 However, glasnost— which means “openness”—profoundly affected Soviet order. By encouraging ordinary people to suggest improvements to the Soviet system and to air their dissatisfactions, glasnost opened floodgates of complaint, which—once unleashed—became unstoppable. These complaints often concerned environmental degradation, public health, Stalin-period repressions, religious freedom, and the status of the Soviet Union’s hundreds of recognized national languages and cultures. Tatars in Tatarstan complained of the impending death of Tatar language, the sorry state of Tatar national culture, and the need to revive Islam. They also took concrete steps to change society. Among other things, these changes resulted in the creation of a new Tatar public sphere that has acted as a catalyst for its own growth, development, and differentiation in ways that could not have been predicted at the outset. The sum of these developments gave rise to an accelerated differentiation in the discursive worlds produced by Tatarstan’s speech communities, which resulted in the splitting of a single, albeit ethnically diverse, Soviet people into multiple publics. While sovereignty did not endure as a mass movement, many thoughts expressed during those critical years of relative freedom continue to undergird life in Tatarstan.

  • 2 Before that time their names were Sotsialistik Tatarstan (Socialist Tatarstan) and Sovetskaia Tata (...)
  • 3 See Brooks (1985) and Humphrey (1983) for sources that specifically deal with letters to the edito (...)
  • 4 That is, the letters could act as performatives (Austin 1975[1962]).

3The letters analyzed in this chapter were published in the early 1990s in Tatarstan’s two Communist Party organ newspapers, Vatanym Tatarstan and Respublika Tatarstan, as they came to be called shortly after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, printed in Tatar and Russian, respectively.2 While letters to the editor can’t act as an unmediated barometer of public opinion, they may open the door to understanding what kinds of ideas are floating around in a disjointed and variegated public sphere. Because these letters appeared in Communist Party organ newspapers, the range of this public sphere was constrained by what the political establishment considered fit to print.3 Without a doubt, the letters served government interests by legitimating the existence of certain kinds of public opinion, and perhaps even brought those opinions into existence through presenting readers with ideas they may not have previously encountered.4

  • 5 See Faller (2002).
  • 6 A tabulation of the locations from which the selected published letters to the editor were sent, w (...)
  • 7 Not surprisingly the Tatar-language newspaper appeared to be more important than the Russian-langu (...)

4Though institutionally equivalent and housed in the same building, the two newspapers do not appeal to equivalent readerships—the Russian-language one tends to be urban, while the Tatar-language readership is predominantly rural. Reflecting a common Soviet division of language domains, during late socialism Tatarstan’s capital city, Kazan, was almost exclusively Russophone, while Tatar language survived in small cities and villages.5 The locations from which writers sent their letters to the two newspapers’ editors reflect this division.6 Additionally, both newspapers served, albeit in unequal measure, as beacons from the homeland for Tatars living beyond Tatarstan’s borders.7 Both newspapers continued to act as government organs into the 21st century—each has a fax machine in its office where directives arrive from the office of the Tatarstan president. This means, among other things, that the papers’ employees depend upon the Tatarstan government for both their salaries and apartments.

5In 2000, the daily circulation of Vatanym Tatarstan (52,000) exceeded that of Respublika Tatarstan (40,000), while in 2009 their respective subscription rates had dropped Vatanym Tatarstan (37,000) and Respublika Tatarstan (36,000). Even at the height of sovereignty’s persuasive power, there were only a few newsstands in Kazan that carried Tatar-language newspapers and periodicals. By the beginning of the 21st century, the majority of Tatar-language publications circulated via subscription with hardly any available for purchase from Kazan street vendors.

  • 8 I didn’t interview his ethnic Russian counterpart at Respublika Tatarstan because that paper didn’ (...)

6Because Tatars generally expressed excitement when they discovered I was researching their culture, it was easy to obtain an interview with Vatanym Tatarstan’s Chief Editor in 2000, Gabdulxak Shamsutdinov.8 Shamsutdinov explained that the official ideologies of the two newspapers’ editorial offices’ are identical—the only difference is that since Tatarness is identified with Islam, Vatanym Tatarstan has a duty to address the question of religion. Accordingly, the newspaper has a special department on religious matters, an Orthodox Christian equivalent to which does not exist at Respublika Tatarstan.

7Shamsutdinov stressed that Vatanym Tatarstan has a responsibility to serve as a link between the Tatarstan government and the people. The government learns about the people’s concerns through the letters sent in to the paper and the people learn the government’s responses through reading Vatanym Tatarstan. At the time we spoke, the Tatar newspaper received more than 22,000 letters to the editor each year. Even though there was not room enough to print them all, Shamsutdinov claimed to address 80 % of them in some form. He said that the only letters the paper would not print were calls to war or those that could potentially rouse feelings of national hatred.

8Of course, there is an important difference between the significance of letters to the editor in the early nineties and those arriving at the newspaper when I interviewed Shamsutdinov. In the early nineties, it seemed to Russia’s residents as if anything could happen. It was a period of unimaginable transitions: Tatarstan’s Declaration of Sovereignty (1990), the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), and the popular referendum upholding Tatarstan Sovereignty (1992). People sending letters to newspapers during glasnost could not predict what consequences their complaints, queries, and suggestions might have.

  • 9 See Abu-Lughod (1990) on the romance of resistance.

9By contrast, in 2000, when I met with Shamsutdinov, people in Tatarstan had become cynical about politics. Some saw Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev’s signing of a power-sharing treaty with Moscow in 1994 as a capitulation to stagnation. Others cited the ruble’s collapse in 1997 as the death knell to hope for progressive social and political change. Many admitted to voting for Vladimir Putin, even though they considered him a dangerous Russian nationalist, because they believed he would restore economic order to the country.In studying these letters, I originally sought to discover whether the possibility for political change compelled people to write in to the newspapers or if their concerns were mundane, even during this period, and what kinds of attitudes the editors were making known to the reading public. However, the letters revealed a fundamental lack of equivalence in the worldviews expressed in each language, documenting the split of Tatarstan’s two main speech communities into incomparable discursive worlds. The asymmetric distribution of linguistic repertoires in Tatarstan described in the Introduction means that Tatar-speakers are generally bilingual and Russian-speakers are not. Consequently, Tatar-speakers can and do consume media products in Russian, while the converse is not generally true. The Tatar-language letters constitute a sphere of discourse incomprehensible to people monolingual in Russian, since they cannot read Tatar, which is unrecognizable to them as part of lived experience. However, the Tatar-language letters don’t constitute a form of resistance to Russian dominance—the Tatar newspaper is a government organ.9 Rather, the newspapers’ dualism suggests unevenly applied Tatarstan government policies to mollify Tatarstan’s Tatar and Russian speech communities by allowing them to observe their own separate conventions.

10The letter’s demands fall along a continuum of scale from the mundane to the political to the ideological. Mundane demands concern small-scale problems within the existing system that require fixing. Political demands seek modifications to the existing system, while ideological demands appeal to alternative systems of values for social organization not recognized as existing at the time they were written. Letters to the editor published in the Russian-language newspaper generally proposed that the system be fixed, that is, their demands were political. Those printed in the Tatar-language newspaper often focused upon the mundane, or made ideological appeals to non-extant systems of values—sometimes doing both simultaneously. In the Russian-language newspaper, writers debated the validity of Tatarstan sovereignty and the political movement for national rights taking place within the republic and throughout the former Soviet Union. In the Tatar-language newspaper, there is no such debate. Rather, letters contain complaints about the Russian chauvinist bias of Tatarstan politicians and praise for those who are considered to show adequate concern for the plight of Tatar language, culture, and political autonomy.

11In addition to examining the scale of the demands made in the letters, certain heuristically generated questions guided my analysis: (1) How do letter writers legitimate their demands as somehow representative of other people? (2) Where do writers place the borders of the polity they inhabit? Are their imaginings geographically nested and whom do they include? (3) At what point in time do writers’ envision their golden age. (Preconquest—before 1552? Stalinism—1924–1953? In the foreseeable future?) (4) By the same token, what are the ingredients to writers’ nightmare scenarios, that is, what has to happen for things to fall apart?

Laminated Authorship

  • 10 Iskhakova (1999).
  • 11 Specifically, Respublika Tatarstan: Listaia stranitsy istorii 8.03.90: 8, letter from Gibatullin a (...)

12Because Russian has been the official language of communication among the Soviet Union’s various nations since 1938, Tatars and other non-Russians send letters they want read by a mixed audience to the Russian-language newspaper. Tatar-speakers may choose to write to the Russian-language newspaper to make their views known to a wide audience or simply because many bilingual Tatars listen to Tatar radio, but read Russian newspapers.10 Since it is the post-Soviet division into “Tatars” and “non-Tatars” that drives the narrative of this book, and more importantly, the lives of people living in Tatarstan, it is important to pinpoint indicators of “Tatarness” in the letters. Among these I count Muslim surnames in signatures, self-identification as Tatar, writing about Islam or Tatar cultural practices from an insider perspective, representations on behalf of “the Tatar people,” and linguistic signals—the insertion of Tatar words or signs of Tatar grammatical interference in Russian texts.11 Voices emerging from a Tatar discursive world may thus make their presence felt in letters printed in the Russian language.

  • 12 Tatarstan newspapers publish editorials as a separate genre called “tochka zreniia [point of view] (...)
  • 13 Respublika Tatarstan 24.07.90: 1. Vatanym Tatarstan 3.6.92: 2 and 11.4.92: 2. These two announceme (...)
  • 14 The hierarchical differentiation of people in the publics created in these letters to the editor r (...)

13Another influence on authorship is editorial framing. Letters may be modified or censored completely. They may be edited in ways that alter their original thrust. Or writing presented as a letter, which we presume to come from an ordinary citizen, may in fact turn out be an article. For example, a piece printed in Respublika Tatarstan called “‘Marked’ ballots?” has the words “Letter to the editor” printed above the headline. However, it turns out to be an editorial from a Mr. Kamalov, a former candidate for Tatarstan’s Parliament who suggests that voter fraud occurred in the election he lost.12 Similarly, an announcement from a famous pop music star about the cancellation of an upcoming concert and another stating that courses for government bureaucrats to raise their qualifications are open for registration are presented as letters to the editor.13 The appearance of such “letters” serves as a reminder that the public created through publishing newspapers is not an undifferentiated mass of equals.14

  • 15 Vatanym Tatarstan 1.7.92: 2.
  • 16...pis’ma ‘za’i ‘protiv’pochty stol’zhe odnoznachno razdeleny po natsional’noi prinadlezhnosti ik (...)
  • 17 In other instances, editors frame letters so as to provide us an interpretative model through whic (...)

14In addition to editing, the newspaper editors frame how we read letters with introductions to particular topics. For example, one introduction states that all letters received about the military draft protest the practice of sons performing their service far away from home.15 In another, the editors point out that “the letters ‘for’ and ‘against’ almost without fail are divided according to the national identity of their authors...”16 Since we cannot view all the letters sent to the newspaper (or even be certain that those published have not been significantly modified) we can only take the editors’ word that nationality serves as the most significant factor in making certain kinds of demands.17

  • 18 The notion of laminated authorship draws upon Goffman’s (1981) division of speaker participant rol (...)
  • 19 Bakhtin (1991).
  • 20 See Warner (1990).

15Indeed, letters to the editor are created through a kind of laminated authorship, some aspects of which are apparent, but most of which are not.18 In addition to editorial modification or censoring, laminations may include aid in writing or suggestions for phrasing by letter-writers’ household members or friends. Or they may be internal, since people’s voices are always heteroglossic, that is, they contain ideas and snippets of speech originally expressed by other people.19 This means that the letters are social products not only because they circulate publicly, but also because multiple actors produce them.20

Legitimating Representation

16Writers of the letters analyzed here presented their claims as popular or representative of other people using four specific legitimation devices: they invoked their Soviet-period status; they used statements made by Soviet human rights activist (and later Soviet Duma deputy) Andrei Sakharov; they claimed long-term residence in Tatarstan; and they employed kin terms to rein in opponents.

  • 21 Respublika Tatarstan 3.03.90: 8-9; ibid.: SSSR—nash obshchii dom 31.03.90: 4; ibid.: Tak kuda idio (...)
  • 22 For example, one writer signs his letter B. Ucharov, Head of the Technical Section of the Kazan Ho (...)
  • 23 This division seems to hold true for the Tatar-language newspaper as well—two letters published in (...)
  • 24 As Astrakhan Tatars, for example (Vatanym Tatarstan 30.9.92: 4). This practice parallels everyday (...)

17Writers invoking their Soviet-period status used the device differently in the two newspapers. In the Russian-language newspaper Respublika Tatarstan writers protesting the shift in political power towards Kazan and away from Moscow frequently augmented their signatures with Soviet titles—Member of the Communist Party, Pensioner, Worker, Participant in the Great Patriotic War (as ex-Soviets call World War II), Labor Veteran, or Invalid (that is, Handicapped).21 By contrast, writers supporting change often legitimated their perspective by naming their professional occupations. This may be because people challenging the Soviet system do not want to identify themselves by the titles it conferred.22 This contrast generally seems to mirror writers’ nationality, that is, non-Tatars appear to cling to their Soviet-period status, while Tatars sometimes name their current occupations.23 For the most part, however, Tatar-language writers do not employ occupation and Soviet-era status in their signature lines. Rather, in the letters themselves, they identify themselves by place of origin or residence, which is how they identify themselves in daily life.24

18The second way writers to Respublika Tatarstan in the early 1990s legitimated their stances, regardless of nationality, was to employ the ideas of Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov’s name appears in two letters published between Tatarstan’s declaration of sovereignty in 1990 and the popular referendum on sovereignty in 1992. One letter citing Sakharov reads as follows:

  • 25 “Inter-national” with a hyphen calques the Russian word “mezhnatsional’nyf” which refers to relati (...)

We consider the Republic of Tatarstan to have powerful economic potential and the right to place itself alongside the other union republics. To us, her inhabitants, the time has come to feel like citizens with the full rights of an equal sovereign republic. Is not Academic A. D. Sakhrarov correct in repeating again and again that the union republics, autonomous republics, and autonomous regions should receive identical status and that that would eradicate not only existing, but also future, conflictual situations on inter-national soil?25

  • 26 The signers’names are as follows: R. Ibragimov, N. Nazmiev, A. Gel’man, K. Shigapov, T. Miasnikova (...)

19The letter is signed by eight people whose surnames suggest that they belong to three different nationalities—Tatar, Russian, and Jewish.26 A second letter that cites Sakharov’s ideas is authored by a man named Kharitonov, who identifies himself as a lawyer:

  • 27 Respublika Tatarstan 18.03.92: 1.

Academic Sakharov wanted to write into the Constitution of the USSR the right of each people, great or small, to equal rights and independence. I thought at that time that our life was taking a direct step towards democracy, that his idea was understood here by everyone. It turns out that is not the case.... At present we continue to give almost everything to the Center.27

  • 28 Though one writer refers to the Tatar language as that of the Tatar national poet Gabdullax Tukay, (...)

20These two letters to the Russian-language newspaper use Sakharov’s ideas to legitimate their own political demands in equivalent ways. By contrast, writers to the Tatar-language newspaper do not incorporate politicians’ words into their letters to substantiate their own points of view. Instead, when Tatar-writers mention politicians, they praise or chastise them.28

21Thirdly, writers legitimate their opinions by claiming long-term residence in Tatarstan, which they measure differently depending upon the language in which they write. For instance, a letter to the Russian-language Respublika Tatarstan whose author signs his name A. Chërnykh, Elabuga City, begins as follows:

  • 29 The Tatar Social Center’s Russian acronym is TOTs, which stands for Tatarskoe obshchestvennii tsen (...)
  • 30 Respublika Tatarstan: SSSR—nash obshchii dom [The USSR is our common home] 31.03.90: 4.

You probably will not print my letter, since, even as it is, [the political organization] TOTs accuses you of ‘anti-Tatar politics.’29 But the voice of Russians should also be heard in your newspaper. When you read about those meetings and declarations, you become beside yourself. And what if our city and region have always been Russian? Our grandfathers and great grandfathers built them. But we have never spoken of that anywhere until now. In general, we have not shouted out that we are, after all, Russians and someone else had better ‘get out!’ Let us recall that we all have always been friendly and helped each other. Even during the War, when each piece of bread was reckoned. Now in our city among the leadership you find few Russians. Even Russian doctors and salesclerks have become rare. How much further is there? Where is there for us to go? These thoughts have only started to come into my head recently. Before, when we were in school, no one asked what your nationality was.30

22Chërnykh’s letter is ethnically focused and confrontational. It is also firmly and explicitly grounded in the political. In contradistinction to his letter’s tone and political focus, a letter in the Tatar-language paper Vatanym Tatarstan from a Nurgayaz Tahirov contains deep-seated ideological implications. Tahirov informs readers that a mosque has been built in his village, which

  • 31 Mäxällä is the term for the pre-revolutionary administrative neighborhood district organized aroun (...)

had eight mäxälläs [Muslim parishes] and eight mosques before the 1917 revolution. But, the Communist regime did not allow a single one of them to remain.... At last, after 75 years the light of faith [iman nury] is returning to our native village. Inshallah, on the land where the light of faith exists, both goodness and honest living will surface because our ancient Bolgar grandfathers lived in this way.31

  • 32 In Tatar, “mächet mötlävälliyate räise.” Tahirov mentions that aid has come from fellow-villagers (...)

23On the one hand, being able to pray in a mosque is mundane—part of the everyday practice of Islam. On the other, practicing Islam is an ideological act because Soviet atheism disallowed alternative belief systems. Tahirov’s invocation of Bolgar—the archaeological site where some ancestors to present-day Tatars lived from at least the 10th through the 13th centuries—is likewise ideological since its inhabitation predates not just the Soviet Union, but Russia’s existence as a state. What is not apparent from the letter’s text is its political significance. Because Tatars believe that religiosity bestows people with a moral conscience and discourages inhumane behavior, the Tatarstan government developed plans to increase the number of houses of worship. Tahirov indicates his place in these plans in his signature line, as “Mosque Charity Director.”32 Thus, like Kamalov cited above, Tahirov has a particular vested interest in the topic about which he writes.

  • 33 That is, “bashka millättän keshelär.” Beyond this, since social and political changes to the likin (...)

24Tahirov’s letter, moreover, reveals the subtlety of a Tatar rhetorical tactic. This tactic is one in which the speaker implies criticism by employing the subjunctive mood to expound upon the positive virtues of a situation. Though blaming the Communist regime, which no longer exists, for the disappearance of mosques in his native village, Tahirov focuses on the potential for “goodness” and “honest living” that the light of faith (iman nury) should cause to emerge, and avoids deriding Russians. This tactic complies with the Tatar ideological belief in maintaining peaceful dialogue at all costs. Tatar speech conventions strongly discourage losing one’s temper in the presence of those who have offended you or even finger-pointing in their absence. For example, when Tatars living in Kazan described to me how Russians had harassed them for speaking Tatar in public, they often referred to them obliquely as “people of another nation.”33

25These two letters clearly reflect different sets of social values. The Russian letter gives voice to imperialist thinking in which “always” extends back three generations, as compared to the Tatar “has been” of ten centuries. Unlike Russians, in 1992 Tatars were not in a position to suffer from the historical shortsightedness of imperialism. That is, like all colonized peoples, Tatars received constant reminders of their social and historical positions within the dominant society in ways which Russians, as members of the hegemonic group, still have no need to recognize. Consequently, Chernykh has the freedom to think that the place from which he writes did not exist in any meaningful way before his Russian great-grandfathers settled it.

  • 34 This old man once told me, “My village no longer exists, although it once had 160 houses. Less tha (...)

26Evidence that Tatars and Russians measure historical memory differently comes from ethnographic evidence as well. For example, my Russian landlady Alevtina, sounding like Chernykh, blamed Tatar “nationalists” for what she perceived as the emergence of “nasty” behavior among Tatars. As evidence of nationalists’ interference, she avowed, “We always lived well together.” But Alevtina’s “always” only extended back as far as the memories she had accumulated during her lifetime of some 50 years. In contrast to her historical memory, stands the oral family history of one Tatar man I knew who has since died—he was 86 in 2000—which spanned nearly 500 years to before Ivan the Terrible’s conquest.34

  • 35 The use of a singular form for “brother,” in place of the expected plural follows Tatar grammatica (...)
  • 36 Respublika Tatarstan: Tak kuda idiot nash karavan? 18.1.92: 6.
  • 37 Vy is the formal you in Russian.

27Despite their ethos of peace, Tatars do express anger towards people who have offended them, especially in Russian. Employing kin terms three Tatar writers to Respublika Tatarstan illustrate one way anger finds expression. The writers seek to deride a certain Valeev, a fellow Tatar who published an article critical of Tatarstan sovereignty supporters. One Tatar-dominant writer refers to the offender and his “unpatriotic brothers.”35 In a second letter, a self-identified Tatar derides Valeev for frightening his “fellow tribesmen” by intimating that the end result of “disobedience” could be “much more sorrowful than the results of 1552.”36 A third letter writer addresses the offender Valeev throughout using the informal you, ty, because, as he explains, “I think that I am older than you. In order to be addressed as “vy” you have to merit it through service to the people.”37 The same writer dubs Valeev a Tatar without lineage or tribe.

  • 38 Apa (older sister/aunt) and abiy or abziy (older brother/uncle) are the kin terms used and may mar (...)
  • 39 This is most frequently done by invoking the epithet “mankurt,” taken from famous Kyrgyz writer Ch (...)

28While these insults took place in Russian, they are predicated on Tatar cultural conventions. As my informants pointed out in numerous interviews, kin relations are more important among Tatar-speakers than among Russian-speakers because Tatars maintain their national language and consequently their sense of national identity largely through family ties to native villages. Kin ties are indicated by forms of address, which younger people employ to demonstrate the respect due their elders, whether related by blood or not. In Kazan’s urban setting, often far away from their blood relatives, Tatar-speakers nevertheless use kin terms and thereby stress the importance of their social networks. Thus, the Tatar children I spent time with at various schools called their ethnically Russian teachers by first name and patronymic, while they called their Tatar teachers “Auntie So-and-So” or, in Tatar, So-and-So apa.38 And Tatarstan Tatars refer to President Mintimir Shaimiev as Babai, which means “Grandfather.” According to this system of values, refusing a Tatar lineage is a profound insult with an impact generally unfelt in Russian speech. It denies that person a place in society.39

29The devices letter-writers employed to legitimate their voices as representative differ depending both upon the language in which they write and the attitudes they express towards Tatarstan sovereignty. Writers to the Russian-language newspaper often invoked formal Soviet institutions— their Soviet-period status or Soviet politicians—while writers to the Tatar one did not. Indeed, letters by Tatar writers to both publications, even in Russian, tend to rely on Tatar cultural institutions.

Plastic Polities

  • 40 Writers made the borders of their homelands apparent by using terms denoting birth-place (tugan ya (...)

30While Russians will refer nostalgically to their homeland when they are outside the former Soviet Union, even Tatars living within Tatarstan’s borders may speak longingly of their birthplaces.40 However, in the letters to the editor, nearly all references to homeland, either directly or implicitly by reference to foreignness, occur in Vatanym Tatarstan and draw the borders of that homeland around the territory of Tatarstan.

  • 41 Vatanym Tatarstan 1.7.92: 2.

31Defining Tatarstan as the homeland has the effect of projecting the republic’s political authority as that of a sovereign state. A remarkable occurrence of this takes place in a cluster of letters in Vatanym Tatarstan concerning military service, which Tatars tend to oppose because their sons, as both members of a national minority and Muslims, are subject to particularly vicious hazing. The letters’ authors presume that Tatarstan’s declaration of sovereignty in 1990 imbues it with authority over Tatars drafted into the Russian army. In these letters, printed under the title, “If we don’t protect them, who will?” (Bezyaklamasak, kem yaklar?), several mothers of soldiers complain that their sons have to perform their military service in foreign regions and republics. One mother demands that the republic return her child to his birthplace. In addition to letters from soldiers’ mothers, Vatanym Tatarstan printed one from a soldier serving in Siberia. Alluding to the hazing taking place in his military company, the soldier requests, “Now that our republic is a sovereign government, I would like to finish my tour of duty in my homeland.”41

  • 42 Ibid., 19.01.93: 2.
  • 43 Tatarstan’s neighbors (Mordovia, Chuvashia, Samara, Astrakhan, etc.) all have significant ethnic T (...)

32Demonstrating similarly imagined borders, though providing evidence that they may not be newly so, is a letter from a woman living in Uzbekistan. Complaining of the prohibitory inflation in Vatanym Tatarstan’s price, she writes, “Although I live abroad, I have subscribed to Vatanym Tatarstan for many years. Every time I take the paper in my hand, I become happy, as if I were returning to my native country.”42 Her letter suggests that, even if Tatarstan’s Sovereignty Declaration increases Tatarstan’s political authority, Tatar imaginings of Central Asia as “abroad” may predate glasnost. However, because Tatars who read standard Kazan Tatar live fairly densely in the regions surrounding Tatarstan, whether or not the writer considers her native country to be Tatarstan per se is unclear.43

  • 44 Zelenodol’sk has a population of about 100,000 people.
  • 45 He came to Kazan to study at the Kazan Aviation Institute (Vatanym Tatarstan 11.7.92: 2.)

33Other letters suggest that less permeable borders divide foreign lands from native ones. One man writes from the Tatarstan city of Zelenodol’sk, just outside Kazan, complaining that people coming from foreign regions—namely the neighboring republics of Chuvashia, Udmurtia, and Kirov oblast’—buy up “our wealth” of food stuffs “in broad daylight” and take them away.44 This hoarding for the homeland motif appears in other letters as well, which, while similarly fixing the borders of homeland at Tatarstan’s borders, imply different locations for abroad. The writer of a letter printed on the same page as the one from Zelenodol’sk marvels that the head of the Ulyanovsk Delegation to the All-World Tatar Congress is a man with a Tatar soul, even though he grew up in a “foreign place”—the Republic of Georgia—and only came to Tatarstan for the first time as a young adult.45

  • 46 “Gomer bue avyzybyzdan özep jyigan akchalarybyznyng räte kitte,” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, b (...)
  • 47 “...Seichas’my pochty vse prodolzhaem otdavat’Tsentru. A obratno poluchaem zhalkie groshi. I esli (...)
  • 48 The political borders of homeland may be differently engendered for Tatar-speakers living outside (...)

34Some writers who support sovereignty seem to situate abroad in Moscow, the seat of the Soviet Union’s and subsequently Russia’s centralized government. For example, a Tatar woman writing from the small Tatarstan city of Älmät laments the Soviet past and protests, “throughout our life the wealth we acquire has been taken from our very mouths,” referring to Moscow’s practice of forcibly appropriating crops and oil, in which donor regions, like Tatarstan, lose out.46 Likewise voicing this view and demonstrating the real-life messiness of relationships between language communities and political opinion, the lawyer Kharitonov advocates, in Russian, that the people of Tatarstan should vote ‘yes’ in Tatarstan’s referendum, in part, so that Tatarstan can retain its wealth and govern itself effectively.47 Thus, while the letters about military service and the one from the woman in Uzbekistan may not fix the border between homeland and elsewhere concretely at the edges of Tatarstan, these latter letters do.48

  • 49 “Ia tatarka, s 1953 goda zhivu za predelami Tatarstana” (Respublika Tatarstan 18.03.92: 1).

35The majority of people with Tatar surnames who sent letters to the Russian-language newspaper, Respublika Tatarstan, seem to imagine Russia or the Soviet Union as their “country.” The one exception in the sample is a letter written by a Tatar woman, who has been living “outside the borders of Tatarstan” since 1953, who writes in support of Tatarstan sovereignty.49

  • 50 “Ilibez häm jirebez öchen Böek Vatan sygyshynda 20 million keshe hälak buldy. Ä bez tugan jirebezn (...)

36The relationship between writers’ place of origin and where they fix the borders of the polity is not necessarily predictable. That is, even Tatar-speakers writing in Tatar may describe the polities they inhabit in what appears to be an ideologically contradictory manner. For example, the woman from Almat juxtaposes the Tatar terms for country (il)—usually the Soviet Union—and homeland (tugan jir)—usually one’s native village—thus. “For the sake of our country (il) and our land, 20 million people perished in the Great Patriotic War. But, we do not know the value of our homeland (tugan jir), we sell it.” In the context of her letter, it remains unclear whether or not il and tugan jir refer to the same territory.50

  • 51 In contrast, one Tatar-writer sends a letter about his Russian friends (Vatanym Tatarstan 11.4.92: (...)

37This lack of clarity reflects the general political confusion that held sway in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, there appears to be a tendency for Tatar-writers residing in Tatarstan to fix the borders of the polity around Tatarstan and to include other Tatar-speakers in that polity.51 Tatars living outside Tatarstan may imagine the homeland to be Tatarstan, while the larger polity they imagined themselves inhabiting, the Soviet Union, may no longer exist. Like Russian-oriented writers, those external Tatars may find themselves occupying a liminal state in which it is uncertain what their country is.

Golden Ages

38Tatar-language writers tended to make concrete demands for an improved future. By contrast, a number of Russian-language writers professed nostalgia for the golden age of Joseph Stalin’s rule (1924–1953). This emerges as part of a larger Soviet debate about the Stalin period spurred by Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze’s allegorical film Repentance (1987) and subsequent discussions in the press that increasingly drove people into camps of opponents and supporters of Stalin’s actions.

  • 52 According to an editorial comment, the pages represent a further installment of letters received i (...)
  • 53 Zinnatullin’s identifiably Tatar surname implies that he idealizes “Tatar” village life. However, (...)

39An illuminating exchange revealing the radical difference in how ex-Soviets remember lived history takes place in a two-page spread in a weekend edition of Respublika Tatarstan called “The history of the Republic in the fates of individual people: Turning the pages of history.”52 The letters in the spread are reactions to an article by someone with the identifiably Tatar surname Zinnatullin, who, the writers imply, wrote in praise of the quality of village life during the 1930s and 1940s.53 According to these letters, self-identified Tatars and people with Tatar surnames are more likely to assert a negative view of Stalinism, while those with Russian surnames tend to represent it in a positive light.

40The most moving indictment of Stalinism among these letters comes from a woman with a Tatar surname who grew up in a village in Bashkortostan. The woman describes in lurid detail the starvation and deaths that resulted from forcible food requisitioning, abject poverty, and the political terror of the late 1930s. She explains that after World War II, while serving in the army, she was sent to work as a prison camp guard. There, along with men who had had the misfortune to be German POWs and were consequently condemned as traitors to the USSR, she encountered female prisoners incarcerated for having been sexually enslaved by the Nazis. If pregnant, the women were forced to have abortions or, if their babies had already been born, to give them up. Many committed suicide.

  • 54 Respublika Tatarstan 3.03.90: 8.

41A man with a Tatar surname, who notes that he is a member of the People’s Front of Tatarstan, likewise expressed pity for innocent Gulag victims. He argued that adapting to one’s surroundings, in this case Zinnatullin’s ability to be happy living under Stalin, is a necessary survival mechanism. However, he considered it “wonderful that the time has come when every person can be thoughtful, for pluralism should become the norm for our life from now on.”54

  • 55 She writes, “My byli syty po appetitu,” that is, “Our appetites were always satisfied” (ibid.).

42Unlike the views expressed above, letters from people with Russian or Ukrainian surnames often depict the 1930s-1940s with warm nostalgia. For example, in stark contrast to all the other letters in the series, one Russian old-age pensioner, who grew up on a collective farm or kolkhoz, shared her fond memories of the Stalinist period, when, she claims, she and her family never went hungry.55 A Ukrainian writer likewise makes an assertion that contradicts testimonials from other sources—he maintains that he went to school in Kazan with the children of enemies of the people, whom, he insists, were never reproached for their status. Echoing Soviet rhetoric, other apparent Russians blame the relatives of people purged by the secret police or kulaks (“rich” peasants) for sabotage, which they claim caused the famines during collectivization in the 1920s.

43There are, nevertheless, significant exceptions to the tendency for opinions about Stalin to split along ethnic lines. Not all “Russians” express admiration for Stalin, nor do all “Tatars” loathe his policies. For instance, one writer with the Russian surname Tsetkov, whose letter describes a childhood haunted by starvation and death, begins his letter with a memory of a Stalin-period nighttime police search, remarking, “...at home we no longer had firewood nor bread left. We were burning the chairs in the stove. One of the nocturnal ‘guests,’ all dressed in leather, sat on the table swinging his leg. A second one, already on his way out, slammed the door...” Correspondingly, a writer with the Tatar surname Nizamov states that Stalin ought only to be blamed for specific actions and that the heroic feats of the period should also be taken into account. Nizamov threatens his fellow-readers with a kind of retroactive subjunctive nightmare, warning that, if it had not been for Stalin, “we” would now be ruled by German barons.

  • 56 Chuvashes are Christian Turkic-speakers who number third in population in Tatarstan after Tatars a (...)
  • 57 Op. cit.

44The letters likewise demonstrate that fondness for the past does not preclude present-day hope. A self-identified Russian, who explains that he is married to a Tatar, writes, “From early childhood we did not know any national differences whatsoever. The common language was Russian. And all of us—Tatars, Russians, Chuvashes, and Jews—lived amicably and happily.”56 At the same time, the writer considers perestroika a positive thing—“honest labor,” as he calls it.57

45The opinions presented in these letters, in particular the lack of a tidy fit between attitudes about Stalin and self-identified or evident nationality, echo the kinds of opinions people express in Russian in other Tatarstan environments. Tatars do not share a general consensus that the Soviet state was an ethnic Russian creation which primarily served to repress non-Russians. This felicitous nonconformity accounts in part for Tatarstan’s peaceful atmosphere. Another reason for Tatarstan’s peaceful atmosphere is that, while sovereignty existed, people of different nationalities explicitly recognized the need to keep channels of communication open in their daily interactions with one another. For example, in 1999 a Tatar bazaar merchant introduced me to the Russian who worked at the stall next to hers. The Russian used the opportunity to inquire, “You’re Tatar and I’m Russian, but we get along. You would tell me if there were something wrong, wouldn’t you?” to which the Tatar acquiesced with a nod. The goal of this exchange, commonplace at the time, was to maintain dialogue. The same impetus caused the Russian-language press to publish disagreements over the past that could be construed as rooted in national difference. Even if people expressed mutually opposed opinions, as long as those opinions were given voice in Russian, agreement over what were the issues and terms of debate prevailed. The next section further illustrates this point.

Nightmares

  • 58 This newspaper did indeed get off the ground and begin publication.
  • 59 The writer’s reason for this is that, he claims, in today’s mixed schools, “Already beginning with (...)

46Respublika Tatarstan’s field of discourse in the early 1990s was not solely devoted to Russians and Tatars debating issues related to Soviet history and Tatarstan sovereignty. For example, on the same page containing several nightmare scenarios under the unifying banner, “The USSR is Our Common Home,” appear letters promoting various points of view on relations between nationalities. These points of view include a letter from a Chuvash named Smirnov celebrating the fact that a Chuvash-language newspaper will soon begin publication in Tatarstan and describing the brotherly relations that exist among the trilingual (Chuvash, Tatar, Russian) residents of his village.58 The page also contains complaints, from a Russian man named Stolbov and a female Tatar “Work Veteran” named Shagidullina, respectively, that the Tatar Social Center (TOTs) branch in Naberezhnye Chelny—Tatarstan’s second largest city and the site of the mostly defunct KAMAZ automobile factories—is too extreme in its nationalist demands. At the same time, both Stolbov and Shagidullina asserted that Tatarstan should embrace bilingual education for all Tatarstan children. A fourth letter from a Tatar named Sabirov advocated opening separate schools for Tatar children so that they immerse themselves in studying Tatar history, culture, traditions, and customs and become authentic patriots.59

  • 60 Ibid.

47Projecting nightmare scenarios is common among apparent Russians, though they usually set them in the present or near future. For instance, Chërnykh from Elabuga, who claimed the right to live in Tatarstan because his grandfathers and great grandfathers built the region, employs this trope. For him the nightmare is “now” because Russian doctors and salesclerks have become rare—“before” he claims, as do many other Russians, no one cared about nationality. Chërnykh considers the current period to be even worse than World War II, when “every piece of bread was reckoned.” Other apparent Russians express imperialist attitudes in the guise of nightmarish imaginings of a world in which all hell has already broken—or will momentarily break—loose. Two letters from Russians expressing such attitudes are signed by “V. Dmitriev, Worker, Leninogorsk” and “B. Tokarev, Participant in the Great Patriotic War, Zainsk.”60

  • 61 Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan. In the 1920s, Soviet officials drew the borders of Azerbaijan s (...)
  • 62 Op. cit.

48Dmitriev’s letter opens with an account of a train trip he took from Krasnodar, a city in southern Russia north of the Caucasus Mountains, to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The train was crowded with ethnic Armenian refugees fleeing Baku.61 Dmitriev describes a conversation he had with a girl eleven or twelve years of age who could not tell him which grade she was in because, by Dmitriev’s account, the Azerbaijan militant People’s Front had expelled her from school. He writes, “Think, comrades, how can it happen that children are expelled from school simply for belonging to a particular nationality?”62 Dmitriev continues:

  • 63 Ibid.

When you read those debates about the events in the Caucasus, you are surprised at the flippancy of authors of such statements as, “Let them figure it out themselves.” That is how the Tatar Social Center’s leader Miliukov responded to Sovetskaia Tatariia. Yes, sure, let those peoples figure it out for themselves. But at what cost? At the cost of human lives? ....My eyes filled up with tears when in the train I heard the story about the afflictions of the unfortunate family of my fellow-travelers. They did not know what to expect in the future, how they would make a place for themselves, or where they were going to live. They were driven out of their apartment.... So much grief, so much destruction in Armenia, where, in addition, the earthquake has left its horrifying imprint! And here, there is enmity between nations. What we ought to be thinking is that nowhere and never should this happen again.63

  • 64 Although the differences in Azeri and Tatar Islam (Shiite and Sunni, respectively) are great, perh (...)

49Dmitriev’s letter is heart wrenching. Beyond this, it implies two things. First, there ought to be intervention in the Caucasus to prevent Azeris from victimizing Armenians, and, second, that Miliukov, with his noninterventionist stance, may be promoting the spread of similar abuses in Tatarstan. The strength of Dmitriev’s implications is augmented by apparent religious parallels—Azeris are Muslim, as are most Tatars, and Armenians are Christian, like Russians.64 Dmitriev’s attention to how nationalism interferes in education further emphasizes this parallel, since, as other letters appearing on this page of the newspaper demonstrate, school reform was a hotly debated question in Tatarstan at the time.

50Another burning topic of debate in 1990 was whether to raise Tatarstan’s status to that of a union republic. It caused a man named Tokarev from the town of Zainsk to send in a nightmare scenario letter to Respublika Tatarstan. Tokarev advocates against expanding local government bureaucracies and proposes that the money saved could be better spent to finance newspapers and theaters for each nationality living in Tatarstan. He suggests that the consequences of further political activity on the part of the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic or TASSR (Tatarstan’s official name until 1990) could be disastrous, asserting that the “national aspect” of government politics is a reflection of personal ambitions, which he pictures as follows:

  • 65 Op. cit.

Relations in the republic between the nationalities are somehow similar to a group of marathoners waiting for a start pistol to go off. Bestowing upon the TASSR the status of union republic would be, in my eyes, a signal to start an inter-national marathon with unforeseen consequences. The example of how all this began in the Baltics causes a person to consider the matter deeply.65

51The national conflicts transpired in the three Baltic republics were hardly violent, at least by comparison the full-fledged war that broke out between Azeris and Armenians. Thus, Tokarev’s nightmare scenario is less alarmist than Dmitriev’s. Rather, his letter insinuates that, should Tatarstan receive increased political authority, Russians may be forced to learn the non-dominant language—Tatar—to fully participate in society. He argues that reforms should remain at a cultural level, and not continue to escalate into political demands. Up until the late 1990s, Tatarstan Russians expressed similar concerns—they frequently worried out loud about their potential disenfranchisement and pointed to the Baltic States as an example of a situation they hoped to avoid. However, once Putin undermined sovereignty, they stopped concerning themselves with Tatar demands.

52As a genre the nightmare letter is nearly absent from Vatanym Tatarstan in the early 1990s. The one example comes from Medvedev, a Tatar living in Moscow. Medvedev’s letter, entitled “Let us not give in to Chauvinists!” reads as follows:

  • 66 One promise Medvedev referred to may be Yeltsin’s 1990 declaration that Tatarstan should take all (...)
  • 67 The second paragraph of the letter reads as follows:

More than two years have passed since Tatarstan’s Declaration of Sovereignty was made. But the Tatar people have not yet escaped slavery. Day by day russification policies are growing stronger. The Slavs are uniting. In the place of KGB soldiers, Ataman Cossack ranks are organizing themselves. The simple-minded Tatar, alone having believed the promises, does not notice the tragedy.66 It is indisputable that laws are needed to protect Tatarstan’s sovereignty. After looking through the recent press on Tatarstan, I came to the following conclusion: many of Tatarstan’s leaders’ deeds cause me doubt. For what reason, for example, have the President and Parliament not appealed to the UN and foreign countries with regards to Tatarstan’s sovereignty? Why are the public prosecutors, the courts, and the police force still in Russia’s hands? And why do they not give permission for unarmed militias to organize?67

53There are three aspects to being a Moscow Tatar—who number up to 1.5 million—that may have influenced Medvedev to mail a nightmare letter to Vatanym Tatarstan. The first is that Medvedev lives outside Tatarstan’s borders and therefore not within a community where there is constant social pressure to negotiate. Second, living in Moscow, he is surrounded by a Russian-oriented majority, where alarmist reactions are normative and there is no taboo against expressing chauvinist opinions. Third, the majority of Tatars living in Moscow are Mishär Tatars. Mishärs have traditionally been involved in business and trade, often with the non-Tatar world, and they have a reputation for speaking their minds in mixed company. Why the Tatar-language newspaper’s editors saw fit to publish this angry letter, when it is at such variance with the kind of discourse they usually promote, is a question worth considering. I would suggest, first, that the letter serves to demonstrate the existence of strong support for Tatarstan sovereignty among Tatars living outside of Tatarstan, and second, it gives vent to opinions Tatarstan Tatars are discouraged from expressing, though they may hold them. Evidence Respublika Tatarstan’s editors likewise transgressed discursive norms in order to manipulate public opinion shores up this interpretation.

Transgressing Discursive Boundaries

  • 68 Respublika Tatarstan, “Esli ty nastoiashchii tatarin...[If you’re a genuine Tatar...]” 25.10.91: 2

54In 1991 Respublika Tatarstan printed a translation of an article by Fäüzia Bäyrämova, Tatarstan’s most vociferous and controversial nationalist, who is a writer and the leader of the Ittifaq Party. At the time the article was published, originally in the Tatar-language newspaper Shaxri Kazan, Bäyrämova was a Tatarstan Parliament Deputy. In the article Bäyrämova makes a number of ideological statements. She bemoans the fact that Tatars are ashamed of their language and culture, and instead “adopt the low-grade cultural stuff of another nation,” that is, Russians. Bäyrämova points out that the geographic expanse of land Tatars occupy, which she considers to be “Tatar land,” extends far beyond the borders of the Republic of Tatarstan. And she complains of Russian chauvinism towards other national cultures.68 Although Tatars frequently make all three of these statements in both speech and writing, they are usually careful not make them in Russian. The letters from Russians and Tatars that Respublika Tatarstan printed in reaction to Bäyrämova’s article without exception lambaste her for her nationalist extremism. By presenting Bäyrämova’s opinions in the Russian language to a nationally mixed audience, the newspaper makes a scapegoat of her and helps to marginalize her from mainstream politics. Moreover, the reading public’s alarmist condemnation of Bäyrämova’s nationalism helps to create a sense of inter-national solidarity, presumably an effect sought after by both editors and Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev. Their condemnation reveals how discursive boundaries dividing Tatarstan’s two major language communities constrain what may be articulated in each language. Furthermore, this condemnation demonstrates that transgressing those boundaries can produce nightmare scenario fears that cause people to seek common ground.

Dissimilar Rationalizations

55The social inappropriateness of Bäyrämova’s article as a publication for a Russian-language audience and the general acceptance of her views as normative in Tatar language demonstrate that there can be great disparity in how Russian- and Tatar-writers represent similar issues. By disparity in representation, I do not mean the lack of consensus displayed by writers in the section on golden ages. Rather, I propose that actual perceptions of similar events may be disparate. Revealing this are two letters whose writers dissimilarly perceive unsuccessful encounters with government bureaucracies.

56Both letters recount the sort of mundane bureaucratic struggles that clutter up post-Soviet life. In one, a man named Zadorov wrote into the Russian-language newspaper to complain that he was cheated at the bus station, while in another, a woman, Orkiya Äbjälilova, described to Vatanym Tatarstan’s readership the poor service she received at the post office. These are both predictably familiar experiences to people who have lived in the former Soviet Union.

57On August 31, 1992, Zadorov attempted to purchase a ticket at the Kazan bus station to the village of Ivashkino on the Cheremshanskii route.

  • 69 “[N]a neizvestnye im, kassiram, ostanovki oni bilety prodavat’ne obiazany,” (Respublika Tatarstan: (...)
  • 70 Ibid.

58The cashier charged him for a ticket all the way to Cheremshan, saying that cashiers are not obliged to sell tickets to destinations unknown to them.69 Zadorov protested that Ivashkino is not unknown—indeed, the village’s name appears on the tariff table posted on the bus station wall. When Zadorov insisted that the cashier give him the correct ticket and return the 18 rubles she overcharged him, she stood up and walked out of the cashier’s booth. At that point, he sought out the manager, but she apparently refused to help him, and he was driven away. Zadorov expressed outrage at the lack of conscience and professional honor he encountered at the bus station and demanded the return of his money.70

  • 71 “[A]ndiy gazeta Tatarstanda chykmiy, katalogta iuk,” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä, alar söili b (...)

59Äbjälilova, who identifies herself as an old woman, complained that she went to Kazan Post Office no. 33 in order to subscribe to Vatanym Tatarstan, where she was told, “That newspaper is not published in Tatarstan. It is not in the catalogue.”71 Äbjälilova tried to explain to the clerk that the newspaper used to be called Sotsialistik Tatarstan. The clerk responded that subscribing to that newspaper cost too much money these days. After much arguing, the clerk finally gave Äbjälilova a subscription form, but didn’t forward her request. Despite her advanced age (and implied physical frailty), Äbjälilova recounted that she later went to a different post office where she was able to get herself subscribed to the newspaper. Unlike Zadorov, who attributed the bus station employees’ rudeness to a lack of conscience and professional honor, Äbjälilova believed that the poor service she received stemmed from the fact that the postal clerk was a Russian chauvinist. She explained that she had lived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for a long time and subscribed to Sotsialistik Tatarstan there without any difficulty. By contrast, Äbjälilova noted:

  • 72 Literally, “stick their feet out.”
  • 73 Ibid.

In my native land, Tatarstan, these slaves from another nation constantly try to trip us up.72 Such injustices should not exist. Perhaps in some other post offices as well there are people who oppose subscribing to newspapers and journals published in Tatar. And some of our co-nationals, having believed their words, are not able to subscribe to newspapers.73

60Zadorov thought cashiers such as the one he encountered should lose their jobs, while Abjalilova considered that people “who do not understand or value our language and, moreover, have no desire to do so” should not be employed. These two letters demonstrate that the language in which a person lives, when considered in light of the cultural truths and social realities a speaker of that language experiences, profoundly affect understandings of the world. The injustice Äbjälilova mentioned resonate with a collective Tatar experience. Indeed, whether or not chauvinism motivated the postal clerk’s behavior, encounters like these, which have accrued as Tatar-speakers have attempted to move Tatar language back into public domains, increasingly color their perceptions of “Russian” behavior.

Pushing the Envelope—Leninist Principles

61Both Zadorov’s and Äbjälilova’s letters condemned abuses of petty authority by low-level government workers. These letters are generically similar, despite the fact that they appeared in different newspapers at different times and in different languages. Generic similarity between letters in Russian and Tatar is, however, more frequently the exception than the rule.

  • 74 Vatanym Tatarstan: Bez Rusiia tügel, bez—Tatarstan: Balalarybyz karan’gyda kala and ‘Iuldyz’nigä s (...)
  • 75 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä...Alar söili belä 11.4.92: 2 and Vatanym Tatarstan: Xalykka xezmätt (...)

62The Russian-language letters examined in this chapter nearly all concern the political. Although some letters in the Tatar-language press address political matters, many more focus on mundane, non-political requests to make small adjustments within the existing system. Examples of mundane requests—albeit introduced under the title “We are not Russia. We are Tatarstan”—include a letter from a woman who asks that her children be allowed to attend the first shift at school so that they do not have to walk home through the muck after dark and another from a woman distressed by the neglected state of her grandparents’ village.74 Announcements concerning the establishment of mosques in villages likewise provide examples of seemingly non-political events.75

  • 76 Lenin (1927[1914]).
  • 77 Up until 1920, it was not clear whether Tatarstan would receive the status of a union or an autono (...)

63Other Tatar-language letters make ideological appeals to non-extant systems of values and social organization. Among these are several which, while grounded in Soviet institutions, presuppose the continued existence of “Leninist principles”—basing their demands upon expectations about Soviet order that date back to Vladimir Lenin’s (1917–1924) pronouncements that nations have the right to self-determination.76 Some of these expectations are revolutionary and concern the fluidity of Tatarstan’s status in the Soviet hierarchy of polities, while others appeal to a pre-1930s assumption that Soviet citizens should be able to conduct official business in languages other than Russian.77

64For example, Mr. Kärimov, a retired schoolteacher from Yanga Karamaly Village in the Möslim Region praised the establishment of a Tatarstan Academy of Science and complained that, previously, one had to go to Moscow to defend a dissertation:

  • 78 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xalykka xezmättä 11.4.92: 3

And there they did not approve very much of the fact that second-class people, or more accurately, Tatars, who only lived in an autonomy, were trying to get out into the larger world.
Even though there are seven million Tatars, since we did not have our own academies, we were not able to increase the number of our intellectuals and academics. We did not achieve a worldwide name. Meanwhile, peoples with populations slightly more than one million—Estonians and Latvians—and peoples of just over two million— Kyrgyz and Turkmen—have their own Academies of Science and hundreds of academics learn their own nation’s history.78

65In contradistinction to Kazan Tatars, Estonians, Latvians, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen were conferred union republic status and each of these republics became independent states when the Soviet Union collapsed. Thus, Kärimov’s argument pertains as much to elevating Tatarstan’s status within post-Soviet political hierarchy as it does to questions of education.

  • 79 Vatanym Tatarstan: Achynyp yazgan xatlar: Javap kanägat’ländermäde (The answer did not please): 19 (...)
  • 80 Ibid.

66A second letter that harks back to pre-Stalinist assumptions about Soviet order comes from Sakina Mingnullina of Kazan, who was trying to discover what benefits her family was entitled to receive as descendents of a rehabilitated enemy of the people. In response to two letters she sent to a Mr. Minhajev, Director of the Secretariat of the Tatarstan Cabinet of Ministers, she received one response from a man named Korzun. The response, which she includes in her letter to Vatanym Tatarstan, is in Russian and states that in order to answer “the question of the rehabilitation of your family, it is necessary to inform us of the concrete facts (concerning your father and his incarceration). Without these facts, a search of the archives is impossible.”79 But, Mingnullina objects, these facts were clearly stated in her letter to Minhajev. However, our “letters were written in Tatar. If they had read them carefully, such a response would not have arrived. In response to our letters written in Tatar, both Minhajev and Korzun wrote back in Russian.”80 In January 1993, when Vatanym Tatarstan printed the letter, Tatarstan had only been officially bilingual for three months, since November 1992, when the Tatarstan Supreme Soviet adopted Tatarstan’s constitution. Nevertheless, by composing her requests to Minhajev in Tatar, Mingnullina insists upon her right to use her “native” language in conducting business with the government. Moreover, by publishing this letter, Vatanym Tatarstan advocated that this right, which existed in the early Soviet period, be reinstated.

  • 81 Tatar, like other Turkic languages, has vowel harmony. This means that vowels are pronounced eithe (...)
  • 82 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä.. .Alar söili belä 11.4.92: 2.

67A third letter, making somewhat bolder demands than the two previous ones, is situated closer to the ideological end of the continuum. In 1992 Vatanym Tatarstan published a letter by a self-identified pensioner who commented upon the Institute for Language, Literature, and History’s proposal to change the Tatar alphabet to create special letters for the sounds back [g] and back [k], unmarked orthographically since the 1930s.81 The pensioner suggested that, rather than modifying the existing Cyrillic alphabet, Tatars should adopt a Latin one, pointing out that half of the people living on the planet, including Turks, write in Latin script. Turks, he adds, have been able to make a lot of progress by writing in Latin. He calls attention to the fact that as soon as Moldovans transformed their republic into a sovereign government, they announced that it was necessary to switch over to a Latin alphabet. The writer concludes, “I think that Tatarstan should probably follow Moldova’s example. If we switch over to the Latin alphabet, our children would learn to write and read the words in pure [chyn] Tatar. And all of us would feel joy in hearing pure Tatar speech.”82

68It may seem as if the writer’s suggestion, like the writers of the two previous letters, are framed by the possibilities of the Soviet past, for Tatars officially used a Latin alphabet from 1926 to 1938. However, his suggestion turns out to be differently grounded, since he legitimates his call to change to a Latin script based on the examples of “half the peoples on earth,” citing the independent states of Turkey and Moldova in particular. The writer does not advocate a return to Leninist principles, but rather that Tatarstan take seriously its status as a sovereign government. And by printing the letter Vatanym Tatarstan not only demonstrated its support for sovereignty and the writer’s point of view, but also provided evidence for sovereignty’s popular support.

Ideological Transformations

  • 83 In 1999 Safiullin resigned his post as a member of Tatarstan’s Parliament when he was elected to t (...)
  • 84 Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul: Üzebez xäl itik! 28.4.93: 2.

69Other Vatanym Tatarstan letters are completely ideological in the demands they make. Several of these complain that Tatarstan Parliament deputies are too conservative in their views or praise deputies, especially Fäüzia Bäyrämova and Fändäs Safiullin, who are considered people’s heroes for their efforts to promote the interests of Tatarstan sovereignty.83 For example, a woman named Xisamova scolded the Tatarstan Parliament for being too much like Russia. Among the behaviors Xisamova considered worthy of chastisement were conducting parliamentary sessions in Russian and passing laws similar to Russia’s. Her opinion was that Russian laws were of “no use to a simple people like us. Those laws are suited to foreigners and profiteers.”84 Xisamova, like the other writers who write letters making ideological demands, doesn’t consider Tatarstan part of the Russian Federation.

  • 85 See Landau (1995) for a more detailed explanation.

70Letters advancing the notion that Tatarstan was not obliged to abide by Russian rules of conduct drew upon non-extant, alternative systems of social and political organization. One such letter appealed to Pan-Turkism, an ideology asserting that all speakers of Turkic languages share cultural and social commonalties.85 Two other letters presumed the existence of a sovereign Tatarstan nation. Both these propositions were extremely dangerous even during Lenin’s rule, even though that was a time of great ideological flexibility.

  • 86 Crimean Tatars are one of the nationalities Stalin deported en masse to Siberia and Central Asia. (...)
  • 87 The sentence in Tatar reads as follows: Yaktashlar, tugandash kardäshlärebezne avyr chakta yardämn (...)

71The Pan-Turkist letter was written in response to an article called “Tugannar” [Relatives] published in Vatanym Tatarstan concerning the difficulties encountered by Crimean Tatars—exiled from their homeland in Ukraine in 1944 by Stalin who accused the entire nation of being Nazi collaborators—attempting to move back to Crimea.86 The writer, Äxät Xaysarov, recounted that in his city of residence—Yar Chally (Naberezhnye Chelny, in Russian)—a sum of money was gathered to help Crimean Tatars repatriate. Xaysarov’s letter closes with the words, “Let us not deny aid to our fellow villagers—our brothers born of the same mother—in this difficult time.”87 That is, Xaysarov refers to Crimean Tatars as if they were from the same geographical region, the same village, and even the same family as himself and other Kazan Tatars.

72Xaysarov’s actions with respect to Crimean Tatars display a disregard for the political authority of actually existing states. Unlike some other nationalities—including Volga Germans—neither the Soviet nor the Russian government ever absolved Crimean Tatars of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Beyond this, even though many Crimeans live in Russia, when the letter was published Crimea was already officially located in another country, Ukraine, beyond Russia’s borders. Here, Pan-Turkic bonds supersede the authority and borders of existing states.

73Letter-writers presuming that Tatarstan is a sovereign polity, instead of merely positing the strength of Pan-Turkic bonds, expressed a complete lack of concern for the continued existence of the Russian Federation’s political authority. These letters likewise presume the existence of a Tatarstan nation and imply that ethnic Tatars are its core members. Among letters that give voice to this perspective are the ones discussed above requesting that young men serve out their military service within the borders of Tatarstan.

  • 88 The letters imply that the three melodies had been performed on Tatarstan Television so that viewe (...)

74Other letters treating Tatarstan’s sovereignty as a fait accompli, while disregarding Tatarstan’s location in the center of Russia’s landmass, discuss possible candidates for the Tatarstan national anthem.88 The editors introduce three letters discussing the anthem with the following words:

  • 89 Vatanym Tatarstan: Gimn turynda söiläshäbez 8.5.93: 2.

Valued Readers, despite the fact that Tatarstan acquired sovereignty three years ago, not all its attributes exist yet. Our people are especially tired of waiting for an anthem to be chosen. A great many letters concerning the anthem arrive in our offices. We are thus opening a special column with the intention of making your thoughts known to the people.89

75The term used in this introductory frame to connote the tired “people” is a collective noun employed to refer to a single ethnicity—that is, Tatars. Both the introduction and the letters presume the primacy of Tatar language and its speakers.

  • 90 Bashkirs are a neighboring Turkic-speaking, Muslim nation whose titular autonomous republic lies j (...)

76A writer named Kuganakly expressed the opinion that Tatarstan’s first anthem should be a full-fledged one with lyrics because, if it is not, people will make up their own lyrics. He did not, however, address the question of the language in which the lyrics should be sung. Another writer, Kurbatov, judged the relative merits of three candidates for anthems, explaining his preference, Täftiläü, which he refers to as the “light of the people’s eye” and soulful or mongly, by its virtue as a “pure Tatar song that both Tatars and Bashkirs love to sing.”90 Kurbatov continued:

  • 91 Op. cit.

Täftiläü is the Tatar people’s favorite song and nourishment for its soul. An anthem based on this song would express the people’s spirit, the people’s joy. And that is not all. The representatives of other nations would lovingly listen to it.91

77Although the anthem is supposed to represent Tatarstan as a whole, the suggestion is that Tatarstan’s anthem should primarily appeal to the sentiments of Tatar-speakers, while the role of other nations is to passively appreciate it.

Conclusions

78Differences in how people compelled to send letters to the editor of Respublika Tatarstan and Vatanym Tatarstan make their cases arise in the devices used to legitimate their opinions as somehow representative of other people—in how they imagine homeland and its relationship to the polity in which they live and in whether they use alarmist tactics (nightmare scenarios) or selective memory (golden ages) to represent their concerns. Significant differences in the scale of writers’ requests likewise exist. The Russian-language letters usually focus on the political sphere and tend to concern the Soviet past or the present. They pose questions like where have all these nationalists come from? Which Union-level politicians merit support? How are we to understand our Soviet past? By contrast, Tatar-writers tend to concentrate on change at the level of the mundane and the ideological. They usually focus on the polity at the village level and often appeal to value systems outside the acknowledged boundaries of the extant political system. This broad discrepancy in scale suggests that not only do Tatar-writers have strong ties to the particular localities in which they live, but also that Tatars compelled to write to the newspaper may feel disenfranchised from current political processes. Thus, while the Tatar letters may not represent public opinion at large, they do suggest the existence of Tatar-speakers who believe in participating in an alternative value system, among whom the newspaper editors, and the government officials from whom the former receive directives, would presumably count themselves.

79While letters printed in different languages depict sometimes irreconcilably different worlds, those published in the Russian-language newspaper not only seem to accept the terms of a single debate no matter what the ascribed nationality of their writers, but also to demonstrate a lack of fit between attitudes towards Tatarstan sovereignty and self-identified or apparent nationality. In light of this, the inter-national dialogue in Respublika Tatarstan letters to the editor, albeit occasionally heated, seems to encourage peaceful social relations in Tatarstan. That is, even if readers disagree with the ideas expressed by letter-writers they assume belong to a different nationality, the government sees to it that they are made aware of them. Those ideas become part of the Russian-speaking public sphere.

80Although many of the letters published by Vatanym Tatarstan represent an extreme departure from recognized political institutions, ethnic Russians have neither the linguistic ability nor the desire to read them. Vatanym Tatarstan serves therefore not inconsequentially as a forum for expressing ideas unpalatable to Russians. While the maintenance of a dialogue in the Russian-language newspaper encourages feelings of inclusive nationalism among Tatarstan’s inhabitants, the pressure to use persuasion, as opposed to alarmism, among Tatarstan’s Tatar-speakers helps the monolingual Russian population to feel both included in and rewarded for participating in nation-building processes.

81That letters written in different languages represent different worlds is, in itself, not a surprising outcome. In the Soviet period, Russian and Tatar languages occupied urban and rural speech domains, respectively. In these two domains, people’s referential worlds, social networks, and quotidian rhythms are profoundly different from one another. At the same time, as Tatar language has increasingly been re-introduced into urban public domains, like government offices, academic institutions, and everyday street life, Tatar referential worlds have become more urban.

82The development of Vatanym Tatarstan and other public spheres as fora for exchanging ideas in Tatar has simultaneously influenced the increasing differentiation of Tatar-speakers from Russian monolinguals. The differences between the letters published in each newspaper provide archival documentation of the divergence of Tatarstan’s discursive worlds, even at the beginning of sovereignty. In daily life at the time, this was made manifest by huge mass demonstrations in Kazan’s Freedom Square during which Tatar-speakers demanded sovereignty and a few political activists, among them Fäüzia Bäyrämova, engaged in hunger strikes.

83As Tatarstan sovereignty gained strength, Tatar-speakers continued to push for ideological change. One such push is the topic of the next chapter, which concerns the history of the outlawed alphabet that Tatars attempted to introduce in the post-Soviet period.

Notes

1 It might be argued that perestroika never took place, since the Soviet Union collapsed before any restructuring could get under way.

2 Before that time their names were Sotsialistik Tatarstan (Socialist Tatarstan) and Sovetskaia Tatariia, (Soviet Tatariia), respectively. Their new names mean “My Fatherland Tatarstan” and “Tatarstan Republic” in Tatar and Russian, respectively.

3 See Brooks (1985) and Humphrey (1983) for sources that specifically deal with letters to the editor in the Soviet Union.

4 That is, the letters could act as performatives (Austin 1975[1962]).

5 See Faller (2002).

6 A tabulation of the locations from which the selected published letters to the editor were sent, when indicated, during the period examined (1990–1993) reveals the following breakdown: Vatanym Tatarstan printed 6 letters from Kazan; 3 from Tatarstan’s second largest city, Naberezhnye Chelny; 3 from smaller Tatarstan cities (Zelenodol’sk, Almetvsk, Tüben Kama); 2 from unspecified locations in Tatarstan; one from Astrakhan; one from Samara oblast’; one from Siberia; 18 from Tatarstan villages; one from a village in Bashkortostan; one from Uzbekistan; and one from Moscow. By contrast, the letters printed in Respublika Tatarstan arrived from the following locales: 18 from Kazan; 7 from smaller Tatarstan cities (one from Nizhnekamsk, 2 from Almetvsk, one from Leninogorsk, one from Elabuga, one from Zainsk, one from Bugulma); one from Orenburg oblast’; one from Bashkortostan’s capital, Ufa; one from Riga; 2 from Siberia (Perm and Magadan oblasts); and only 2 from Tatarstan villages.

7 Not surprisingly the Tatar-language newspaper appeared to be more important than the Russian-language one in its role as a “beacon.” Tatars live in other parts of the Middle Volga region, in the neighboring republic of Bashkortostan, in Siberia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere.

8 I didn’t interview his ethnic Russian counterpart at Respublika Tatarstan because that paper didn’t play a similarly pivotal role in Tatarstan’s linguistic political economy.

9 See Abu-Lughod (1990) on the romance of resistance.

10 Iskhakova (1999).

11 Specifically, Respublika Tatarstan: Listaia stranitsy istorii 8.03.90: 8, letter from Gibatullin and K gosudarstvennym simvola s uvazheniem 9.10.91: 2, and letters from Garipov and Safin. Linguistic signs of the first type include insertion of Tatar words into texts “bai” (rich person) and “tuy” (wedding) and “Uf allam” (O my Allah!). Examples of grammatical interference are more difficult to pinpoint not only because the majority of them presumably get edited out of the original texts, but also because while verb finality is obligatory in Tatar, it is optional in Russian. Similarly, omission of personal pronouns is stylistically acceptable in Russian, while their inclusion is optional in Tatar. So, neither of these features is particularly telling in regards to interference. However, there are a few examples of interference, such as the unusual use of a singular pointed out in the “Legitimating Representation” section. Two additional examples come from a letter signed by F. Xasanov (Listaia stranitsy istorii 8.03.90). One occurs in a description of the writer’s reaction to Stalin’s death. He explains that he cried and writes, “To byly iskrennie sliozy!” [That (sic) were sincere tears!]. Tatar does not require numerical agreement: in a Tatar sentence marking “tears” as plural would suffice. The other indicator is not on the level of syntax, but rather of semantics. Xasanov writes: “A kakov on—kommunizm, nikto ne videl i ne znaet” (But, what sort of thing communism is, no one has seen and no one knows). Perhaps because Tatar is a language that uses evidentials, sentences that double up verbs of seeing and knowing to emphasize complete—or in the present case—complete lack of, knowledge are common. For example, Tatars commonly refer to the wisdom that old people possess as “seen a lot and known a lot [küp körgän häm küp belgän].” These examples demonstrate that some letters contain indicators of linguistic Tatarness, in addition to Muslim names. Even so, there are a significant number of Christian Tatars whose names are supposed to be indistinguishable from Russian names, though in actuality they may not be, which all makes for a muddy playing field with regards to parsing letter-writers as Tatar or not. Dates for citations from newspapers appear in European order, that is, date precedes month, as this is how dates are reckoned in Tatarstan.

12 Tatarstan newspapers publish editorials as a separate genre called “tochka zreniia [point of view].”

13 Respublika Tatarstan 24.07.90: 1. Vatanym Tatarstan 3.6.92: 2 and 11.4.92: 2. These two announcements differ neither in font size nor with regards to any other visual cues from the letters among which they appear. Treating news items as letters to the editor is a Russian journalistic convention dating back to the mid-19th century, if not earlier. See my unpublished paper “Representing Shamil: Fact meets Fiction?” for an example.

14 The hierarchical differentiation of people in the publics created in these letters to the editor refutes Anderson’s (1991) claims about reading publics.

15 Vatanym Tatarstan 1.7.92: 2.

16...pis’ma ‘za’i ‘protiv’pochty stol’zhe odnoznachno razdeleny po natsional’noi prinadlezhnosti ikh avtorov...” (Ibid.).

17 In other instances, editors frame letters so as to provide us an interpretative model through which to read them. Sometimes this frame consists of pullout quotes, that is, phrases or modifications of phrases that appear in the letters, either as titles to individual letters or in large bold print in the center of a page of letters. In the Tatar-language newspaper, by contrast to the Russian one, the framing titles frequently do not correspond to anything explicitly stated in the published text of the letter. A second style of editorial framing consists of introductions to letters all concerning the same topic. A frame of this type, appearing in Respublika Tatarstan, asserts that the newspaper received equal numbers of letters on both sides of the argument in reaction to an article published in its pages by an ethnic Tatar writer demanding that the Tatar nationalist newspaper Suvernitet be shut down (Respublika Tatarstan 18.01.92: 6).

18 The notion of laminated authorship draws upon Goffman’s (1981) division of speaker participant roles, in which he distinguishes between a statement’s author, animator, and principal. The term author refers to the party who has selected the views being presented; the animator is the party giving voice to those views; and the principal represents the party whose position is established, whose beliefs are spoken, or who possesses commitment to the words the animator says. While in speech these three roles may reside within a single individual, the texts produced in letters to the editor all have multiple principals, even when they aren’t signed by multiple authors. Depending upon the views expressed, a letter’s principals could include Tatarstan or Russian government officials, the newspaper’s editors, people sending in the letters, their friends; their families, or even all the members of their (Tatar-Russian or monolingual Russian) linguistic community. The animator of a given letter is presumably likewise one of its principals, as well as one of its authors.

19 Bakhtin (1991).

20 See Warner (1990).

21 Respublika Tatarstan 3.03.90: 8-9; ibid.: SSSR—nash obshchii dom 31.03.90: 4; ibid.: Tak kuda idiot nash karavan? [Where is our caravan going?] 18.01.92: 7; ibid.: Iz nashei pochty [From our mailbox] 5.11.92: 3; ibid.: Narod ne pozvolit [The people will not allow it] 13.3.93: 10.

22 For example, one writer signs his letter B. Ucharov, Head of the Technical Section of the Kazan House-building Kombinat (Respublika Tatarstan: Tak kuda idiot nash karavan? 18.01.92: 7).

23 This division seems to hold true for the Tatar-language newspaper as well—two letters published in Vatanym Tatarstan, complaining that the Tatarstan government is too conservative, are signed by current and former teachers. Only one writer complaining of Tatarstan’s conservatism reminds us that he is a War and Labor Veteran (Vatanym Tatarstan 1.4.92: 2, ibid. 3.6.92: 2; and ibid. 30.6.92: 1, respectively).

24 As Astrakhan Tatars, for example (Vatanym Tatarstan 30.9.92: 4). This practice parallels everyday conversational conventions, whereby Tatar-speakers identify themselves to each other by seeking common social networks through place of origin, kinship ties, and other institutions. While living in Kazan, I noticed that, unlike Russians, Tatars introducing themselves to new people usually identified themselves by place of rural origin prior to (and sometimes instead of) naming their professional occupations. This located them within a matrix of Tatar understandings of a Tatar-inflected world. A similar stress on specific locales—often rural—likewise emanates through Tatar popular songs and produces recognition in listeners.

25 “Inter-national” with a hyphen calques the Russian word “mezhnatsional’nyf” which refers to relations between nationalities living on former Soviet territory. Respublika Tatarstan 9.12.90: 3.

26 The signers’names are as follows: R. Ibragimov, N. Nazmiev, A. Gel’man, K. Shigapov, T. Miasnikova, V. Kukarov, D. Saifullin, and Z. Sharapov.

27 Respublika Tatarstan 18.03.92: 1.

28 Though one writer refers to the Tatar language as that of the Tatar national poet Gabdullax Tukay, often referred to as “the Tatar Pushkin.”

29 The Tatar Social Center’s Russian acronym is TOTs, which stands for Tatarskoe obshchestvennii tsentr. TOTS was a key player in Tatarstan sovereignty activism and at the time had close connections with the Tatarstan government.

30 Respublika Tatarstan: SSSR—nash obshchii dom [The USSR is our common home] 31.03.90: 4.

31 Mäxällä is the term for the pre-revolutionary administrative neighborhood district organized around a mosque; “surface” is literally kainyp toryp, which means “boil up continuously.” Vatanym Tatarstan 11.4.92: 2.

32 In Tatar, “mächet mötlävälliyate räise.” Tahirov mentions that aid has come from fellow-villagers living “abroad,” although he does not specify where.

33 That is, “bashka millättän keshelär.” Beyond this, since social and political changes to the liking of many Tatar-speakers were occurring in the early 1990s, it is not surprising that anger is largely absent from Tatars’letters.

34 This old man once told me, “My village no longer exists, although it once had 160 houses. Less than two miles away there is a Russian village on the water in the place where our village used to be. But, after Ivan the Terrible came, the Tatars were made to flee. In the new settlement we drilled a well and were able to farm again. But, the well was struck by lightening and destroyed and, as a result, my family went into trade. My father was one of four sons, all of whom were merchants. My father, the eldest, died when I was four or five years old. The second son also died young. The third and fourth sons were fur merchants in China and didn’t return after the revolution. One of their sons, however, did and was sent to prison.”

35 The use of a singular form for “brother,” in place of the expected plural follows Tatar grammatical usage and reveals that the writer is Tatar-dominant. The phrase is “vashego brata dovol’no mnogo,” Respublika Tatarstan: Tak kuda idiot nash karavan? 18.1.92: 7. The writer appears to be indexing Russians by using the kin term brat. In Central Asia, as Morgan Liu (2002) points out, and elsewhere Russians were referred to as “older brother.” Tatar does not possess a generic term for brother, but, instead requires that speakers choose between older brother (abiy) and younger brother (eni), which are rendered by Tatars and some other ex-Soviet Turkic speakers in Russian as brat and bratishka, respectively.

36 Respublika Tatarstan: Tak kuda idiot nash karavan? 18.1.92: 6.

37 Vy is the formal you in Russian.

38 Apa (older sister/aunt) and abiy or abziy (older brother/uncle) are the kin terms used and may mark difference in age of as little as a year. Although corollary kin terms exist for younger siblings, they are not used to index hierarchy in everyday speech. Indeed, their absence, that is, speakers’lack of obligation to use them, marks their own hierarchical status. Female Tatars do, however, sometimes refer to younger females to whom they are not related as kyzym, which means both “my girl” and “my daughter.”

39 This is most frequently done by invoking the epithet “mankurt,” taken from famous Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s (1983) novel, The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years, which refers to a Eurasian Turk who shuns his or her native language and culture. During the years I spent in Kazan I only heard members of the Tatar social club, described by Wertheim (2003), employing this scathing term.

40 Writers made the borders of their homelands apparent by using terms denoting birth-place (tugan yak in Tatar and rodina in Russian), country (il in Tatar), or abroad (chit in Tatar; za rubezh in Russian). The only letter that employs za rubezh places it at the edge of the Soviet Union’s territory (Respublika Tatarstan 13.03.93: 10.).

41 Vatanym Tatarstan 1.7.92: 2.

42 Ibid., 19.01.93: 2.

43 Tatarstan’s neighbors (Mordovia, Chuvashia, Samara, Astrakhan, etc.) all have significant ethnic Tatar populations. Up to 35 % of Bashkortostan’s population considers itself to be Tatar.

44 Zelenodol’sk has a population of about 100,000 people.

45 He came to Kazan to study at the Kazan Aviation Institute (Vatanym Tatarstan 11.7.92: 2.)

46 “Gomer bue avyzybyzdan özep jyigan akchalarybyznyng räte kitte,” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul 28.04.93: 2).

47 “...Seichas’my pochty vse prodolzhaem otdavat’Tsentru. A obratno poluchaem zhalkie groshi. I esli poluchaem, to s protianutoi rukoi. Nakopivshiesia voprosy ne mozhem reshat’bystro, operativno.” (Respublika Tatarstan 18.03.92: 1).

48 The political borders of homeland may be differently engendered for Tatar-speakers living outside Tatarstan. An example of this difference occurs in a Vatanym Tatarstan letter that does not fit the editorial frame under which it was published, “Let our sons do their military service on Tatarstan territory!” The letter, sent from Samara District, by the mother of at least three boys, one of whom served in Mongolia and another in the Baltic Republics, states that “[w]herever the country sends them, that’s where men should do their service.” (Vatanym Tatarstan 1.7.92: 2.) Although this woman is a Tatar-speaker, her “country” appears to be the Russian Federation, or perhaps still the USSR.

49 “Ia tatarka, s 1953 goda zhivu za predelami Tatarstana” (Respublika Tatarstan 18.03.92: 1).

50 “Ilibez häm jirebez öchen Böek Vatan sygyshynda 20 million keshe hälak buldy. Ä bez tugan jirebezneng kaderen belmimez, satabyz” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul 28.04.93: 2).

51 In contrast, one Tatar-writer sends a letter about his Russian friends (Vatanym Tatarstan 11.4.92: 2). The fact that its writer felt compelled to compose it, as well as the newspaper’s editors’decision to publish it, indicates its likely remarkableness.

52 According to an editorial comment, the pages represent a further installment of letters received in response to an article V. Zinnatullin published in Respublika Tatarstan on 24 January 1990.

53 Zinnatullin’s identifiably Tatar surname implies that he idealizes “Tatar” village life. However, some villages are ethnically mixed.

54 Respublika Tatarstan 3.03.90: 8.

55 She writes, “My byli syty po appetitu,” that is, “Our appetites were always satisfied” (ibid.).

56 Chuvashes are Christian Turkic-speakers who number third in population in Tatarstan after Tatars and Russians.

57 Op. cit.

58 This newspaper did indeed get off the ground and begin publication.

59 The writer’s reason for this is that, he claims, in today’s mixed schools, “Already beginning with the first grades Tatar children are called basurmans, naked-foreheads (gololoby), and damned Asiatics. As a result, children of Tatar nationality deny their own people, language, culture, and traditions. An entire generation infected with national nihilism is growing up. And one cannot expect them to be internationalists.” Respublika Tatarstan: SSSR—nash obshchii dom 31.03.90: 4.

60 Ibid.

61 Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan. In the 1920s, Soviet officials drew the borders of Azerbaijan so that the republic contained an ethnic Armenian enclave called Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh became the site of one of the numerous bloody civil wars that occurred during the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

62 Op. cit.

63 Ibid.

64 Although the differences in Azeri and Tatar Islam (Shiite and Sunni, respectively) are great, perhaps even greater than the differences between Armenian Christianity and Russian Orthodoxy, Dmitriev’s letter implies an erasure of these differences.

65 Op. cit.

66 One promise Medvedev referred to may be Yeltsin’s 1990 declaration that Tatarstan should take all the sovereignty it could swallow.

67 The second paragraph of the letter reads as follows:

“They are teaching Russian children and children of other nations (millät) the mother tongue (i.e. Tatar language). And it is known that in Tatarstan Tatar and Russian languages have been made government languages. I welcome this. The Tatar classes in ethnic Russian schools are necessary for assimilation. It is long ago time to become cognizant of the deceptive, cruel (yavuz—the epithet Tatars use to refer to Ivan the Terrible) intention to undermine Tatarstan sovereignty. In a word, the people (xalyk) voiced its opinion quite strongly in the referendum. Let us not give in to those who have sold their souls, to chauvinists, to adventurers!” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul 28.4.93: 2).

Medvedev’s point about assimilation is not entirely clear. The word he uses for class (klass) refers to a cohort of children who all study the same subjects together through the course of their schooling. In Tatarstan, Tatar classes differ from Russian ones in that the study of Tatar language is more intense and literary—the assumption is made that children are already fluent in Tatar—than in the Russian classes, where children study Tatar only very superficially. Thus, perhaps by “assimilation” Medvedev means assimilating Tatar children as members of a Tatar-speaking community. It is certain that he is not referring to assimilation of ethnic Russian children to Tatar culture. Indeed, although children of mixed parentage can conceivably study in a Tatar group, in fact this rarely happens for long.

68 Respublika Tatarstan, “Esli ty nastoiashchii tatarin...[If you’re a genuine Tatar...]” 25.10.91: 2.

69 “[N]a neizvestnye im, kassiram, ostanovki oni bilety prodavat’ne obiazany,” (Respublika Tatarstan: Iz nashei pochty: Chto khotiat, to i vorotiat 5.11.92: 3).

70 Ibid.

71 “[A]ndiy gazeta Tatarstanda chykmiy, katalogta iuk,” (Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä, alar söili belä: küngeldäge töerläre 30.6.92: 1).

72 Literally, “stick their feet out.”

73 Ibid.

74 Vatanym Tatarstan: Bez Rusiia tügel, bez—Tatarstan: Balalarybyz karan’gyda kala and ‘Iuldyz’nigä sünde 9.10.90: 2, respectively.

75 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä...Alar söili belä 11.4.92: 2 and Vatanym Tatarstan: Xalykka xezmättä 3.6.92: 2.

76 Lenin (1927[1914]).

77 Up until 1920, it was not clear whether Tatarstan would receive the status of a union or an autonomous republic, or even how large the republic’s territory would be. Please see Schafer (1995). The assumption that Soviet citizens should be able to conduct official business in their native language dates to the korenizatsiia period in the 1920s. See Brubaker (1996), Hirsch (2005), Martin (2001), Slezkine (1994a and 1994b), and Suny (1993), among others.

78 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xalykka xezmättä 11.4.92: 3

79 Vatanym Tatarstan: Achynyp yazgan xatlar: Javap kanägat’ländermäde (The answer did not please): 19.01.93: 2.

80 Ibid.

81 Tatar, like other Turkic languages, has vowel harmony. This means that vowels are pronounced either in the front or the back of the mouth. Tatar’s Cyrillic alphabet, unlike the Cyrillic alphabets for languages like Kazakh and Kyrgyz, does not mark the back forms of [k] and [g].

82 Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä.. .Alar söili belä 11.4.92: 2.

83 In 1999 Safiullin resigned his post as a member of Tatarstan’s Parliament when he was elected to the Russian Duma. Vatanym Tatarstan: Bez Rusiia tügel, bez—Tatarstan 9.10.90: 2; Vatanym Tatarstan: Xatlar kilä...Alar söili belä: Dustan doshman yakyn bulmas 11.4.92: 3; Vatanym Tatarstan: Tatar kaida da tatar: Yazmalary joky kachyra 11.7.92: 2; and Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul: Bezneng Safiullinybyz..., as well as Üzebez xäl itik! 28.4.93: 2.

84 Vatanym Tatarstan: Alai tügel, bolai ul: Üzebez xäl itik! 28.4.93: 2.

85 See Landau (1995) for a more detailed explanation.

86 Crimean Tatars are one of the nationalities Stalin deported en masse to Siberia and Central Asia. See Uehling (2000). Others include Chechens, Volga Germans, Mesket Turks, and some Poles, inter alii.

87 The sentence in Tatar reads as follows: Yaktashlar, tugandash kardäshlärebezne avyr chakta yardämnän tashlamyik. (Vatanym Tatarstan: Gazetabyznyng bügenge sany ukuchylarybyz xatlarynnan tuplandy 30.6.92: 1.)

88 The letters imply that the three melodies had been performed on Tatarstan Television so that viewers could form opinions about which of them should become Tatarstan’s anthem.

89 Vatanym Tatarstan: Gimn turynda söiläshäbez 8.5.93: 2.

90 Bashkirs are a neighboring Turkic-speaking, Muslim nation whose titular autonomous republic lies just to the east of Tatarstan. See Chapter 7 for more on mong as a vehicle for reproducing national unity.

91 Op. cit.

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