By Paul Goble
The Bashkirs of Orenburg, increasingly concerned about their present and past mistreatment by the authorities, appear to be stepping up their collective political activity. The Orenburg oblast was created by Joseph Stalin to prevent Bashkortostan from having an external border and thus be able to demand union republic status in Soviet times (for background on this issue, see EDM, November 19).
On November 23, the Bashkirs held the fifth Orenburg oblast kurultay or assembly. They were greeted by Oleg Dimov, the deputy head of the government of the oblast, a delegation from Bashkortostan, which read out a message from that republic’s president, as well as other officials, journalists and scholars (kurultay-ufa.ru/2013/11/27/v-kurultay-bashkir-orenburzhya.html
kurultay-ufa.ru/2013/11/26/pora-poiskov-i-derzaniy.html).In his speech to the kurultay, he not only talked about Bashkir resistance to Moscow’s decision to transfer some historically Bashkir lands to what became Orenburg oblast, but also about the assimilatory pressures the Bashkirs of Orenburg now face (
Recent sociological research shows, he said, that most Bashkirs in Orenburg oblast aged 35 to 60 speak Bashkir but that those younger than that do not—the result of two waves of Bashkir-language school closures there, first in the 1960s and then during the last several years. Despite the claims of some officials, Orenburg’s Bashkirs do not want their schools closed and want Ufa to pressure Orenburg. But “unfortunately,” Kalmantayev said, “this decision does not depend” on Bashkortostan.
Bashkir activists have asked Orenburg officials to stop the current wave of school closings and to create Bashkir-language sections of Russian schools, where preventing the closures of Bashkir academic institutions is not possible for financial reasons. The Ufa-based scholar said that, in talking with Bashkir parents in Orenburg, he had found that they were ready to sign a petition to that effect. “The time has come,” he continued, “to speak out on this problem. Today it is not yet too late; tomorrow, it will be.”