Staunton, April 20 – Residents of the Republic of Tatarstan are now paying Moscow every year 4557 times more than did medieval Muscovy when it was under the so-called Tatar Yoke that Russians continue to describe as an unbearable burden and one they blame for many of the shortcomings of their political culture.
That difference has been calculated by Kazan scholars on the basis of the latest research and is offered in a commentary about Russia, the Mongol Yoke, and Tatarstan by Rashit Akhmetov, the editor of the independent Zvezda Povolzhya, in the current issue of his newspaper (no. 14 (694), April 17-23, 2014, p. 1).
Akhmetov argues that it is important to return to the question of the Mongol “yoke” because in many ways, Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin is casting himself as the latest incarnation of Ivan the Terrible who was the first Moscow leader to “raise Rus from its knees” not only by his conquest of vast territories but by his self-isolation of Russia from the world.
To be sure, the Kazan editor says, Ivan did not present his project at the time as “the ingathering of Russian lands” but simply as “the conquest of other peoples.” But there are some important commonalities. For example, he used Orthodoxy to oppose “Catholic Europe and Muslim Turkey,” the two of which combined as a “common enemy with which no compromise was possible.”
Indeed, under his guidance, “the construction of the Russian state” became “an isolationist project,” and that isolation and the imperial ideology related to it, not the Mongol yoke that Russians like to blame, has been responsible for Russia’s authoritarian regimes and backwardness.
Thus, Akhmetov continues, it is not entirely correct to speak of Russia as “the Golden Horde’s heir.” Were it, Russia would be a very different place. The Horde did not repress its own people in an equally savage way. And it did not impose serfdom, something that would have been almost impossible in nomadic or semi-nomadic society.
No, he says, “the tradition of ‘war’ with one’s own people is Muscovite ‘know-how,’” and there is no reason to blame the Mongols or the Tatars, all the more so because the Moscow yoke on peoples living within its borders is so much heavier than was the Mongol one on peoples living within its.
Indeed, Moscow has recently highlighted this reality by complaining that people in eastern Ukraine are being forced to send 70 percent of their incomes to Kyiv while remaining silent about the fact that the people of Tatarstan are having to send 80 percent of theirs.
But even more seriously, the Kremlin today is again isolating Russia in order to protect its own power, lashing out in all directions. “But one must not base a policy on opposing the entire world,” Akhmetov says. “Sooner or later, [such an approach] is condemned failure and collapse.”
Having mentioned Ukraine, the Kazan editor then turns his attention to the Crimean Tatars, with whom the Kazan Tatars are related. He notes that there are no indications that Moscow will follow through on its promises to the Crimean Tatars and suggests that as Moscow strengthens its position there, the “political” weight of that community is likely to decline.
But Moscow’s continuing pressure on the Crimean Tatars could backfire on the Russian leadership because many in the world’s Muslim community, who have been neutral toward the Kremlin up to now, are likely to view Russian oppression of the Crimean Tatars as “the last drop” and oppose what Putin is doing.
That could put the Kremlin leader in a difficult position all the more so because in the face of worsening relations with the West, Putin is seeking to turn eastwards. In order to try to obscure what he is doing to the Crimean Tatars, Akhmetov says, Moscow may turn to the Kazan Tatars as intermediaries.
The president of Tatarstan has already gone to China, “a visible result of Russia’s turn to the east,” Akhmetov says, and just one of the ways in which “the importance of Tatarstan is increasing.” Indeed, he suggests, Kazan “could become a showcase of Russia in the East much as Tashkent was in the past.”
That is even more likely to be the case, he concludes, because “the Muslim countries and China will cooperate with greater interest with Kazan than with Moscow.” And that in turn sets the stage for new divisions in Kazan between those who see Moscow’s yoke as increasingly unbearable and those who believe the best way to lighten it is the work with the Kremlin.