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«THE TATAR GAZETTE»

N 4, 31.10.1997


NEW CIVIL ID AIMED HIGH, HIT LOW

    1. The Russian Federation shall be a secular state. No religion may be instituted as state-sponsored or mandatory religion.

    2. Religious associations shall be separated from the state, and shall be equal before the law.

    Article 14, Constitution of the Russian Federation (1993), Section I, Chapter I.

Muslims are now expected in Russia to pledge allegiance to the cross and to accept what is for them a symbol of persecution, forced conversion, humiliation, and loss of freedom suffered by their forebears as the official emblem for their native country.

To make things worse, the cross is replicated four times on the national coat of arms adorning the new Russian civil identity document. An image of St. George transfixing with his lance the writhing dragon, adds insult to injury for the Tatars, as the dragon reminds them of the independent Tatar State, Kazan khanate, which fell to the Russians in the 16th c.

The Tatars regard the official adoption of the new design of the civil ID as an overt attempt to wound their national pride. Press reported that the President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev, seeking to avoid civil unrest, ordered to stop the issuance of the new IDs in the Republic.

After the new design of the identity document was revealed, passions have been running high in other formerly autonomous ethnic republics as well, particularly in the Caucasus.

Besides the offensive Christian-monarchist imagery, made official by the 11/30/1993 Yeltsin ordinance, the new ID is conspicuous for bearing no mention of the “ethnicity” of its holder.

In the Soviet days, the ethnic origin of a citizen used to be disclosed in his or her civil “passport”, which presented an issue of bitter concern to those who wished to dissimulate their ethnic background.

The primary reason for that desire was rampant discrimination against Russian citizens of non-Russian descent.

After years and years of self-hating and feeling inferior to Russians, minorities managed to get rid of one psychological complex only to immediately develop another one. Now everybody is Russian but some people are more Russian than others: the others have to account for their non-native accent, for their not wearing a cross or not going to an Eastern Orthodox church, as befits a regular Russian citizen.

The question is: if they can’t write it down any more, how will those numerous Russian nationals with non-Russian names now ‘prove’ their being Russian? Anyway, if things are going to get too violent, one is still better off not looking too Mediterranean.

What can explain why the authorities show themselves so obstinate in trying to graft the repugnant insignia of the Russian empire on today’s Russian secular democracy? Why should free and equal citizens endorse symbols of tyranny and oppression?

And is this a pure coincidence that the new design has been adopted this year, declared the Year of Harmony and Reconciliation? Why did it go into effect right after the community events celebrating the Year all over the country were over?

Why does the new design manifest such complete disregard for minorities’ side of the story? Is this a move to discredit the president in function?

Or else, is this an attempt to obliterate ethnic specificities? During the Soviet era many educated people of ethnic minorities bought into the barely disguised assimilationist idea and sincerely hoped that the entire population of Russia will eventually fuse together into one formidable “Soviet” nation, cemented by the Russian language and Russian culture. Old habits die hard, despite the evidence that no new “all-Russian” nation was born, just more damage was done to our country’s ethnic diversity by the larger nation’s swallowing up smaller ones.

The new civil ID has yet another point of difference: all the print on its pages is in Russian only. That puts the status of minority languages even lower than the already subordinate position they held in the Soviet time. In the times of the USSR, the identity document was issued both in Russian and in the language of the nominal ethnic majority of the republic. No one seemed to mind that back then.

The new identity document bespeaks once again the commitment of the authorities to unconstitutionally uphold Russian Christian Orthodoxy as the State religion and Russian nationalistic monarchism as the principle of governance.

Since the Russian armed forces have been taking on an increasingly Christian Orthodox character, cases of draft evasion among the young Tatars multiplied. Does one now have to be a Russian Orthodox to be able to protect one’s loved ones? If so, what is now going to happen to atheists, Muslims, or Buddhists?

What’s wrong with us? We yet again tried to aim very high and hit a mark so low...

Translated by Tahir Taisin.


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E-mail: irek@moris.ru