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Nation, Language, Islam
Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement

Helen M. Faller

A detailed academic treatise of the history of nationality in Tatarstan. The book demonstrates how state collapse and national revival influenced the divergence of worldviews among ex-Soviet people in Tatarstan, where a political movement for sovereignty (1986-2000) had significant social effects, most saliently, by increasing the domains where people speak the Tatar language and circulating ideas associated with Tatar culture. Also addresses the question of how Russian Muslims experience quotidian life in the post-Soviet period.

The only book-length ethnography in English on Tatars, Russia’s second most populous nation, and also the largest Muslim community in the Federation, offers a major contribution to our understanding of how and why nations form and how and why they matter – and the limits of their influence, in the Tatar case.


Introduction Chapter 1 Hope for the Future / Nostalgia for the Past: what Tatarstan letters to the editor reveal about the unmaking of Soviet people (1990–1993) Chapter 2. How Tatar nation-builders came to be Chapter 3. Creating Soviet people: the meanings of alphabets Chapter 4. Chapter 5. Repossessing Kazan Chapter 6. Kazan in black and white Chapter 7. Mong and the National Reproduction of Collective Sorrow Chapter 8. Words Apart Appendix Bibliography Index

"Helen M. Faller devotes much time to the fascinating twists and turns of Tatar orthography, and more time dissecting the interplay between Tatar speakers and Russian speakers in Kazan.
Faller draws a useful distinction between nation-builders and ethnicity-based nationalists. Where the standard model of nationalism theory stresses belief in a unified, geographically limited community bound together by a common language, Faller writes that she didn’t find this among the Tatars she got to know during many visits to the country. (Most of her sources were women; if there are heroes in her book, they are the resourceful Tatar-speaking women.) There are no 'average' Tatar-speakers, and the boundaries between 'Tatar culture' and 'other cultures' are 'permeable and shifting'. And no wonder, any culture whose language underwent the manipulations suffered by Tatar over the past century would almost have to learn to shift with the tides of history.
Faller’s vision of Tatarstan, and Russia, is bleak. 'Tatarstan sovereignty no longer exists as a political movement. The majority of Tatar-speakers have lost hope in the possibility of changing their society into one more equitable than that which existed during the Soviet period,' she writes in conclusion. Anxiety and despair are pulling Tatars in two directions – toward religiosity and, for younger people, toward digitally-based cultural and language activism. 'What these two trends mean for Russia’s future development as a multi-national state is unclear, though it is unlikely that a peaceful transition towards inclusive pluralism will occur in the foreseeable future'.” - Transitions Online

348 pages, cloth
ISBN 978-963-9776-84-5 $55.00 / €50.00 / £45.00