Nation, Lanuage, Islam: Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement

Nation, Lanuage, Islam: Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement

Nation, Lanuage, Islam: Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement

Nation, Lanuage, Islam: Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement

Excerpt

[In Germany I have a son. He has been living there with his children for two
years,] the old woman explained to me in Russian, smiling broadly. She turned her
head back towards the postal clerk sitting behind her window. The clerk, a Tatar
woman in her twenties, took the pens and pencils out of the old woman's package
and passed them back to her through the narrow opening. [Only printed matter,]
the clerk pronounced grimly from her seated position. The old woman bent over,
putting her face close to the opening, and tried to catch the clerk's eye. She be
seeched her, [Just one? It's good. It's ours. It's Soviet.] The postal clerkkept her
eyes averted and shook her head.

Field notes, Kazan's Central Post Office, 14 August 2000

This exchange demonstrates one of the central paradoxes of living in postSoviet Russia, which is that while Soviet bureaucratic institutions are still in place, Soviet ideology has lost its persuasive appeal. The highly regulated bureaucracies the Soviet government created—the postal system, mass transit, banking, long distance trains, the passport regime—still operate according to strict Soviet-period rules. However, Soviet things possess little perceived merit and are especially unimportant to people of the postal clerk's generation, who came of age during perestroika. Calling something [good] because it is [ours] and [Soviet] can no longer change circumstances or be employed to bend rigid rules towards felicitous outcomes.

This book is about the unmaking of Soviet people. It takes as its example a movement for political sovereignty (1990–2000) in the Russian autonomous republic of Tatarstan and examines its continuing social effects. Accepting the local interpretation that the post-Soviet revival of Tatar—a Turkic language—and Tatar culture in Tatarstan constitute part of a decolonization process, it illustrates how Tatar-speakers' reality has changed since Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, initiated his liberalizing reforms— perestroika or restructuring (1986–2001) and glasnost or openness (1985– 1990). It accepts as a truism that when colonized peoples engage in processes of decolonization, they draw their initial demands—which largely . . .

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