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Free Idel-Ural Movement takes shape in Kyiv

The Free Idel Ural Movement press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 21, 2018 (Source:
The Free Idel Ural Movement press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 21, 2018 (Source:
Free Idel-Ural Movement takes shape in Kyiv

This week, three activists from the Middle Volga announced the formation of the Free Idel-Ural Movement to achieve real sovereignty for Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, Mari El and Mordvinia by encouraging cooperative actions among the peoples of these republics and drawing on support from Ukraine.

Rafis Kashapov, a longtime Tatar activist who was a political prisoner in Russia for three years before fleeing to Ukraine, said that his goal was to restore the sovereignty of his own republic and that of the other five in the Idel-Ural region. (Idel is the Turkic for the Volga; Idel-Ural thus refers to the region between that river and the Urals.)

Since Vladimir Putin came to power, the Tatar activist continued, “the federal center has ceased to view Tatarstan” or the other republics in Idel-Ural “as an equal partner.” That must be reversed by peaceful and cooperative work. Any other approach will lead to defeat.

“That these peoples speak different languages – three are Turkic while three are Finno-Ugric, two are Muslim, one is Christian, and profess different religions” – three are Turkic while three are Finno-Ugric, two are Muslim, one is Christian and two animist – “is not an obstacle,” Kashapov said.

“We never had conflicts and together we fought both against the Mongols and against Moscow forces.” Now, it is time to do so again.

According to the Tatar activist, the principles of the new Free Idel-Ural Movement are as follows: non-violent action within the limits of international law, the restoration of the sovereignty of the six republics, and the ultimately the formation of a confederation among them to control “not only their own resources but their foreign policy and defense.”

A second leader of the new group, Aleksandr Bolkin, an Erzya Mordvin who lives in Ukraine, argued that Ukraine is the most natural and appropriate place for such a movement to be launched.

Not only does Ukraine have experience with social mobilization, but it is actively involved in fighting Russian aggression.

And Okhomason Kirdya, a graduate of Voronezh University who is a specialist on the cultures, languages and history of the Finno-Ugric groups, pointed out that “this is the third attempt” to promote Idel-Ural. The first was a century ago, and the second after World War II when it was initiated by the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations.

“I am convinced that the third attempt will be successful, Kirdya said. But it may take decades to achieve. Consequently, it needs both activists in the homeland and support from abroad, especially from Ukraine which can only defend itself if it finds allies within the borders of the Russian Federation among non-Russian nations.

“Representatives of [the Ukrainian government] must be convinced that in the national autonomies of Russia there are whole sections in cemeteries where are buried those who fought in the Donbas against Ukraine. Without an alliance with Idel-Ural, the Caucasus, and the Komi and Karelian Republics,” we will always be attacked by Moscow “regardless of its ideology.”

How far this group gets is very much an open question, but it is certain to attract the attention of Moscow for three reasons:

  • First, Russian propaganda has always viewed the whole idea of Idel-Ural as linked to the Nazis because of German efforts to form units of people from the Middle Volga to fight against the Soviets during World War II.
  • Second, Moscow officials are always nervous about any efforts by non-Russians within the Russian Federation to cooperate, something that the center always views as an immediate threat even if it is only a long term one, especially if it involves links with a former Soviet republic like Ukraine.
  • And third and most significantly perhaps, Moscow will blame this on the United States. Since 1959, the US Captive Nations Week has listed Idel-Ural as one of the nations still held captive by Moscow. Indeed, for most of the intervening period, that has been the only time when the term appears.

That is especially likely because less than three weeks ago, some in Russia began talking about Cossackia, the land of the Cossacks, and the only other nation still under Moscow’s control listed by the 1959 US Congress.

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