I meant something a little different. I have the impression that in political protests in Tatarstan, issues of language often turn out to be key. It’s not economic problems, but language that becomes the impetus for the political action among the concerned population.
This is no longer the case. This has not been the case for a long time, in fact. There is a segment of the socio-political movement, remnants of the national movement of the 1990s – early 2000s, for whom this is a fundamental issue, who accuse the leadership of Tatarstan and Russia of oppressing the language. This is also seen among the youth, for example, when rapper Usal
sings in the song “1552
” that “they have ruined the language.”
But I wouldn't say that it is the key issue. If, for instance, there were attempts made to decrease state support for the Tatar language even more drastically, or to remove Tatar language from the constitution, for example, then of course there will be powerful waves of protests, there’s a danger of crossing the line. But the administration, the Rais
of Tatarstan, and the government of Tatarstan are quite adept at avoiding such situations.
The core base that we had, the core of the national movement of the 1990s, hasn’t existed for a long time. There are forms of protest; almost everywhere around with signs and picketing. It is a ritual, so that people don’t forget there is a national movement. But in reality, this is not the main problem concerning the residents of Tatarstan.
We had a period when our higher education system was in the Tatar language, but now this is not the case. And so we think, “We should make this happen.” Within the GiylemProject, we limited ourselves to popularizing science. But the idea of Achyk University
appeared at the World Forum of Tatar Youth and you can take Tatar language courses on their website.
It’s a selfish interest: everything I’m curious about must be in Tatar. Until it’s in Tatar, it’s not really mine. In Tatar, everything becomes a part of my world, because my world is Tatar-speaking. I think, speak, read, write in Tatar. My dreams are in Tatar.
We believe that some things, for example, foreign things, international things, should be handled directly, without using Russian as a pivot language. We translated Harry Potter
from English, unlike in the Soviet period, when foreign literature was translated through Russian. The time when everything must be translated through Russian has come to an end.
We began translating old Tatar textbooks from the beginning of the 20th century, which use non-Russian terms, and sometimes even non-European terms, because they passed through the East. It’s not that our goal is to show the self-sufficiency of language, but it is important to convince ourselves and others that science is possible in our language. We have also worked on Wikipedia. In my world, the Pope speaks Tatar, and so does Harry Potter.First I want to talk not about modern Tatar literature, but about the classics. I think that the average Russian of non-Tatar origin only knows about Gabdulla Tukay. How can we ensure that in the eyes of Russians, Tatar culture is not limited to folklore, costume, Islam, cooking, the historical figures of the Khans, Princess Syuyumbike?
Even in Kazan, few non-Tatars know that we have poets besides Tukay. We have a monument to Kul Gali
. His poem Kyssa-i Yusuf
(“The Tale of Yusuf”) is a bestseller in Tatar literature. Until a certain period, the authors of ancient literature were equally Tatar, Bashkir, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz—this is the period of common Turkic literature. Previously, these authors were studied in the Tatar literature school curriculum, including for Russian-speaking children.
The procedure for popularizing national writers was determined during the Soviet period. Tukay and Jalil
were published in Russian. Kul Gali, the author of Kysa-i Yusuf,
began to be promoted in the 1980s, when the anniversary of this work was celebrated under the UNESCO program. Ancient literature is not an everyday, casual read. This is high literature, which was created within the palaces and was addressed to the khans. New literature, the times of Tukay and Kamal
, this was the Tatar Renaissance, when they began to write in language that the people could understand.
There was also a period when some of our texts were banned. A number of names were banned in the 1930s, although some works were promoted, for example the novel Honor
, which was translated into Russian, the languages of the peoples of the USSR and the countries of the socialist bloc. And in 1944, study of the epic Idegei
was prohibited.Has this repressed literature experienced a rebirth?
Yes, it has been reborn. It is being published in Tatar, studied, and sometimes translated.What about modern Tatar literature?
In the 1990s, topics that had been banned were brought back — national issues, historical novels. We are constantly publishing something. True, there are much fewer young prose authors than poets.
How close modern literature is to the reader is another question. Intrigues, scandals and investigations flare up every year when the Tukay Prize
is awarded — who’s going to receive it, and for what. Usually the prize is given to writers of considerable age for works that they wrote 20 years ago, 30 years ago. Young applicants are pushed to the backburner.Why do authors who write in Tatar choose to do so?
On Monday, when you wrote, I was at the theater. By the way, Tatar theater is developing rapidly. There was a literary evening by Rabit Batulla
, who turned 75 years old. It ran an hour and a half and included an ode to the Tatar language, poets, writers, history, they read an excerpt from his novel about how the shakirds of Kul-Sharif
defended Kazan during the conquest. The event was organized in the spirit of the 1990s. Rabit Batulla himself said that he is 33% unhappy, because his happiness consists of three elements: work, family and the freedom of the republic.
Tatar writers are not only writers, they are always politicians as well. Writing in the Tatar language means participating in the national process. But, in addition to their patriotism and worldviews, it seems more difficult to break into the Russian literary space than it is to break into the world of Tatar literature. We have only 300–400 writers.