Monday, February 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Chuvashia is a Republic Not an Oblast and Should be Called Volga Bulgaria, Residents Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – Stung by two recent indications that Moscow is now working behind the scenes to downgrade the status of their republic, residents of Chuvashia in the Middle Volga region, have responded by demanding their republic be renamed the Republic of Chuvashia -- Volga Bulgaria to reflect its history and to allow them to defend their interests.

            On February 12, in a report on the “Vremya” news program of Russia’s First Channel, Chuvashia and Udmurtia, a Christian Turkic and Finno-Ugric republic respectively, were listed on the screen as “the Chuvash Oblast” and “the Udmurt Oblast” even though all other national formations were properly described (www.irekle.org/news/i708.html).

            That sparked outrage in the local media and blogosphere, all the more so because this broadcast came only weeks after some Duma members had suggested that republics be eliminated and folded into larger, Russian-dominated oblasts or krays.  Some of the Chuvash outlets suggested that their republic was now slated for such a fate.

            Two days later, Andrey Kulagin, a deputy on the republic’s State Council, challenged Chuvash head Mikhail Ignatyev about the second irritant. He asked Kulagin to explain why republic officials last year had unilaterally dropped references to “statehood” in the republic’s constitution.

            Ignatyev’s response did little to calm the situation.  According to one report, Ignatyev said that “the level of life of the Chuvash people does not depend on whether the Constitution mentions a state formation or not” (a-b-belov.livejournal.com/337792.html). Given the “Vremya” fiasco, that only added fuel to the fire.

            (It is worth noting that this Constitutional change has been much criticized in the Chuvash blogosphere.  For an example of a detailed legal critique of what Ignatyev and his command have done, see, among other, chuvashiya.livejournal.com/364950.html).

            The Chuvash have responded in a most interesting way.  Last week, a group of leading intellectuals and public figures petitioned the State Council in Cheboksary to “return to the region its historical name, ‘the Republic of Chuvashia-Volga Bulgaria’” (chuvashiya.livejournal.com/403078.html and ria.ru/society/20130221/924100852.html).
The appeal points out that in 1993, all the former autonomous republics except Chuvashia were successful in having their land renamed. Thus, Mari became Mari Il, North Osetia became North Osetia – Alania, Yakutia became Sakha and so on, and the Chuvash ASSR should have become the Republic of Chuvashia-Volga Bulgaria.  But that didn’t happen even though the idea was promoted already in the 1920s.

            It continues by noting that “The Government, the State Council of the Chuvash Republic and all of us are the heirs of the ancient Bulgar civilization, its history, language and culture” and that all can only “be concerned by the situation” that has emerged as a result of the catastrophic decline in the number of the Chuvash people.”

            Based on the figures of the 2010 census, the appeal says, the number of Chuvash in the Russian Federation over the previous eight years had declined by 200,000 and over the last 25 had fallen by 410,000.

            “Restoring the historical name of the republic will raise the status of the region,” it continues, “give a chance for the unification and consolidation of the forces of the Chuvash people in overcoming the difficulties in the popularization of our native history and native language, promote the rebirth of cultural and historical values, and raise the image of Chuvash scholars in the international community.”

            Cheboksary officials have now acknowledged that they have received the appeal and are studying Russian laws governing requests for change in names. They have made no promises than that as to when they will respond to the Chuvash people regarding this new request.

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