How Kazan Aged Two Centuries in 28 Years

This year, Kazan celebrated its 1000-year anniversary -- and the fruits of that celebration are apparent everywhere. Churches, monuments, shops and hotels have been painstakingly renovated. A brand new subway system opened its doors in August. And busloads of tourists chug around downtown, past billboards proudly proclaiming the jubilee.

So we were surprised when Vladimir Muzychenko told us that in 1977, Kazan had planned its 800-year anniversary. "I even have a couple of souvenir pins," he told us. The celebration was ultimately canceled, but a question remained: how did Kazan manage to age two centuries in 28 years?



These pins were made in 1977, as part of Kazan's planned 800-year anniversary celebration. (David Hillegas)

The answer seemed filled with intrigue. Some people suggested this was a political "gift" from Russia to Tatarstan -- complete with financial help in sprucing up Kazan. The fact that President Putin allowed Kazan to celebrate being 150 years older than Moscow, we were told, was a political concession unthinkable in Soviet times. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev "figured out how to make all this happen," Vladimir told us. "It's good for Putin, and good for him."

But we heard a more prosaic -- though no less interesting -- reason from Niyaz Khalitov, an archaeologist at the Kazan Kremlin. In the mid-90s, he told us, "we found two coins dating from the 10th century, one from Central Asia, and one Czech coin that was totally unique -- the only one of its kind in the world." From those coins, the archaeologists deduced that Kazan was at least a thousand years old.

Khalitov did admit that the exact year of the city's founding was unknown. "Kazan is probably even older, but a decision was made to mark it as 1000 years," he told us. "It would have been nice to have the celebration in 2000, but it took time to clean up the city and make souvenirs. Then, we thought we might do it in 2003, but St. Petersburg was celebrating its 300-year anniversary that year. So we decided on 2005."

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The couple we're staying with here, Roman and Nelya Kupriyanov, have been dream hosts. They've fed us, given us separate rooms to sleep in, and left us alone when we've been hunched over our laptops. Nelya speaks English very well, and they even have cable TV with the BBC. Wow.



Nelya and Roman Kupriyanov have spoiled Lisa and David with home-cooked meals and the BBC. (David Hillegas

I've even gotten some free counseling from Roman, who's a psychologist. This morning, I was telling him about the flame war that has erupted in readers' comments to the blog. It seemed ironic that just as I've been writing about how well Tatars and Russians get along, they've been tearing each other up in the comments.

"People here don't talk openly about these kinds of things," he told me. "It probably helps to maintain stability not to talk about it. Perhaps the fact that you're asking so openly brings up difficult feelings for people." He summed up with a proverb: "Don't scratch if it doesn't itch."

Tomorrow: An update on the family of Zhenya Mamykin, a young soldier who died in Chechnya in 1995.

By Lisa Dickey |  October 27, 2005; 8:11 AM ET
Previous: Two Journalists in Kazan, Ten Years Later | Next: Kazan: A Soldier's Family, Ten Years Later

Comments

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Lisa:

the readers' reaction to your stories reflects the complexity of this issue and does not disprove the fact that Russians and Tatars in Russia can and do get along well.

I would like to note that, if I observed correctly, the majority of the comments on this blog are posted by people who do not currently reside in Russia, and who perhaps never lived in Kazan. So their views/opinions are shaped by different experiences than those of the residents of Kazan/Tatarstan with whom you've spoken.

One thing that Tatars, Russians, and other ethnic groups in Kazan/Tatarstan succeeded in is knowing how to get along with one another. It is certainly more difficult to maintain peace than to wage into unsupported accusations.

Perhaps Roman is right in saying that people in Tatarstan refrain from bringing up ethnic issues unnecessarily. But if that's what contributes to getting along, then let it be.

What's going on on this blog is certainly part of the complexity of the Tatar-Russian relations, but it is in no way a true reflection of them.

Best,
Liliya

Posted by: Liliya | October 28, 2005 12:06 AM

Liliya,

An open discussion of the most thorny issues and subsequent fair resolution of them is key to genuine stability (e.g. a Nurnberg trial of Nazi criminals and condemnation of Nazism as ideology). It is also key for establishing democratic fundamentals in authoritarian and transitional societies. What you are advocating brings about latent dissatisfaction, which can always deteriorate into an open conflict. Restoration of the nation's (Tatars) honour, history, exemplary track-record, after centuries of malicious and deceitful Russian propaganda, is a MUST, if we want to survive as a civilized nation. There is no alternative to this. It is also good for Russia, because as you may remember the old adage, "somebody who oppresses others can't be free himself/herself". Russia needs freedom now more that at any other point in her history.

Regards.....

Posted by: Tatar | October 28, 2005 06:06 AM

Dear Tatar:

Thank you for your comment. I think I didn't express myself clearly in my previous post, so I'll try to explain here what I meant earlier.

I absolutely agree with you that an open discussion of thorny issues is important in bringing stability and ultimately resolving a conflict. But, as you can observe from this blog, not all people are capable of having a discussion, let alone an open discussion.

In my daily life in Kazan or Tatarstan, for example, there are plenty of opportunities for bringing up ethnic issues. I can do it every step I make. But I will not do it unless I can see that it is an appropriate situation and that the other party is willing to have a discussion and is capable of doing it. I think it goes along with what Roman said in Lisa's article.

I do not consider finger-pointing, generalizations, and personal attacks that have taken place on this blog (to use it as an example) an open discussion, and I don't think they can contribute to a peaceful conflict resolution and to establishing a democratic society.

Russians and Tatars in Tatarstan have to deal with this in person - not online - on a daily basis. If they are not careful of when and how they bring up ethnic issues, they can quickly surround themselves with nothing but hatred.

I can turn off my computer and forget about the nasty things that some participants of this blog said. I can't walk away from it as easily in my daily life in Kazan.

Best,
Liliya

Posted by: Liliya | October 28, 2005 11:01 AM

i miss my homeland.

Posted by: mikhail | October 31, 2005 05:42 PM

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