‘To increase the sense of national dignity’: popular scientific literature about Tatars’ history expands horizons

It is intended to make Tatar history more popular in Kazan on the threshold of a census

‘To increase the sense of national dignity’: popular scientific literature about Tatars’ history expands horizons
Photo: Maksim Platonov

There are problems with the unity of the Tatar nation, while scientists’ work in the mass media requires a system — participants in a round-table talk in the Sh. Marjani Institute of History claimed. Kazan historians tried to catch trends and are going to strengthen popular scientific literature and asked representatives of the media to help them. The zest of the situation is that the meeting took place before the census scheduled for 2021, which speakers mentioned many times. It is noteworthy that the role of Realnoe Vremya’s in popularising historical science and Tatar studies was repeatedly noted.

“Times have changed, the way material is presented has changed as well”

The Sh. Marjani Institute of History began to think about the promotion of historical science to the masses on the threshold of the 2021 All-Russian Census. For this purpose, Acting Director of the institute Radik Salikhov gathered scientists, journalists covering history, PR managers for a round-table talk Popularisation of Scientific Knowledge in Tatarstan: Problems, Mechanisms and Area. We should note that there were a lot of Realnoe Vremya columnists — researchers publishing historical columns and essays on the pages of the online newspaper among the participants.

“There is high demand for our ‘simple’ history now,” Salikhov began. “Unfortunately, a big number of our works are written in a specific scientific language. While the demand for historical knowledge is very high. We are stepping into a new path for us — interaction with society. Now we have a lot of questions. In what format scientific knowledge should be popularised? What channels, means of communication should it go through? Who is the target audience?”

Now we have a lot of questions. In what format scientific knowledge should be popularised?

According to him, popularisation of science and development of popular scientific content are in as high demand as never before. The director of the institute thinks that the amount of work Kazan historians do obviously isn’t enough. In fact, a department of interdisciplinary research Bakhtiyar Izmaylov chaired was created in the Institute of History to communicate with society.

“Times have changed, the way material is presented has changed as well. First of all, this happens because of the development of Internet technologies,” Izmaylov kept the ball rolling. “And Mr Khakimov (Editor’s Note: ex-director, currently a researcher in the Institute of History) was the first to claim the necessity of being present on the Internet. For this purpose, he began writing blogs in online newspapers. In 2017, he became one of the initiators of the creation of cartoons that have already been six nowadays.”

So the video Brief History of the Tatars released 3 years ago has been viewed almost two millions times. The same video in English has had 370,000 view. According to the Institute of History’s Producer of Multimedia Projects Zilya Tyamayeva, the preparation of the script and production of this 15-minute video took over 9 months. Moreover, TASSR History in 10 minutes, Tatars: Origin of People, Tatars’ Food, History of Kazan also found their audience. At the same time, historians already understand that new ideas of how the history of the Tatars and Tatarstan can be presented are needed now.

The goal the organisers of the round-table talk pursued was not only to make science more popular

“We have certain problems regarding the Tatar nation”

We should note that the goal the organisers of the round-table talk pursued was not only to make science more popular. The All-Russian Census was to be this year, but it was postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, battles about the national identification of Tatars and related peoples (Bashkirs, Nogays, Nagaybaks and others) have increased in the information space. It is also feared that the results of the census can be falsified. In particular they afraid the number of the Tatars and Tatar speakers will turn out smaller than in 2010 or 2002.

Moreover, the issue of nationality and language of northwest regions of Bashkiria and the population living along the border of neighbouring republics remains unresolved. The sides often resort to history to explain their position and interpret facts in their own way.

“The census is ahead,” Radik Salikhov reminded the audience. “We have certain problems regarding the Tatar nation. Tatars live in different regions of the Russian Federation. And our task as scientists is to provide unbiased historical, scientific fundamental material to explain the identity of a Tatar person living in Central Russia, Astrakhan, Western Bashkortostan, in the whole Tatar world. And our activity is obviously not enough. We lack material on the history of villages, a biography of famous people, any examples that increase the sense of national dignity.”

As Bulat Khamidullin said, two books of the series Russian Regions Densely Populated by Tatars

As head of the Centre for Tatar Diaspora Research of the Institute of Tatar Encyclopaedia and Regional Studies of the Tatarstan Academy Bulat Khamidullin said, two books of the series Russian Regions Densely Populated by Tatars. The institute also launched the portal tatarica.org in two languages — Russian and Tatar.

At the same time, information attacks on Tatarstan and Tatars go on, including with the help of “speaking heads” on the federal scale — politicians, bloggers, public activists. While numerous attempts to celebrate the Great Stand on the Ugra River across Russia logically causes an “allergic reaction” not only in Kazan or in the Tatar world. And authoritative historians journalists turn to make a considerable contribution to reflect these “attacks”.

The cancellation of compulsory national language learning at school was quite painfully received in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and some other regions. President of Russia Vladimir Putin was voiced this initiative in 2017. Teachers, parents, state activists raised the alarm. However, public and religious organisations became good support here. So the World Tatar Youth Forum annually expands the geography of Tatar Dictation in Tatarstan. The Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate at the behest of Mufti Kamil Samigullin gives Tatar language courses at republican mosques and announced themed contests (My People is My Pride in 2019).

Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov offered to declare 2012 as the Year of Conservation of Mother Tongues and National Unity. Experts evaluated such a decision of the head of the republic as a kind of reply of the region to the federal centre.

Gabdrafikova urged to intensify the work on television, particularly with TNV channel

“There was no system in the work with the mass media”

As for making history more popular, the speakers repeatedly mentioned Realnoe Vremya: the newspaper pays a lot of attention to some aspects of the past of Kazan, Tatarstan, neighbouring regions, Tatars and Bashkirs.

One of the permanent authors of the online newspaper Liliya Gabdrafikova, senior researcher in the Institute of History, paid attention to the topics that interest her readers the most. So pieces on the origin of Tatars, ancient history and history of settlements cause a great outcry.

“There was no system in the work with the mass media. And Realnoe Vremya stirred us up. Moreover, a lot turns on the personality of a journalist and his interest in a topic,” Gabdrafikova stressed.

She also urged to intensify the work on television, particularly with TNV channel. The TV company has quality equipment and highly professional specialists. She put an example of our neighbours from Bashkiria — BST channel. In her opinion, Ufa historian Salavat Khamidullin makes programmes quite interesting and informative, though academia might question the content.

Tatar Publishing House was criticised by Liliya Gabdrafikova. Despite its good infrastructure, she thinks the management of the organisation doesn’t work with historians systematically, “everything is based on personal relations there”, and they don’t monitor readers’ demand.

“The portfolio in the publishing house is booked for the next 10 years. And the financing has been at the same level for many years already despite the materials that go up in price,” Bulat Khamidullin disagreed.

During the talk, scientists were also mentioned. Historians’ language is often full of terminology, while their texts are rich in complex sentences. Such pieces are boring for an average reader, even if they contain compelling facts. So the audience offered to increase scientists’ work on social media (especially on Facebook), Telegram channels and on other information sites.

By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: Maksim Platonov
Tatarstan