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After 20 Years, Tatarstan Finally Gets An Anthem With Words

The text of the proposed anthem is based on this poem by Ramazan Baytimerov.
The text of the proposed anthem is based on this poem by Ramazan Baytimerov.
Russia's republic of Tatarstan has had its own anthem for 20 years, but only now is it getting some words.

"Every time I hear the anthem I can see people wanting to sing," says Rimma Ratnikova, the head of a special commission dedicated to revamping the anthem.

After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, some of Russia's republics, riding a wave of ethnic nationalism, were keen to have their own anthems. But because of widespread fears about secessionism and the further break up of Russia, Tatar politicians trod carefully.

They did at least agree on the music: an anthem called "My Homeland" by Tatar composer Rustem Yakhin, who died in 1993. In 1990, the song was the winning entry in a competition devoted to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. With the Soviet Union still intact, the contest was held in secret.

The words to the anthem, based on a poem written by Ramazan Baytimerov, a World War II veteran who died in 1989, are a sentimental ode to Tatarstan:

I walked so many roads, I've seen the world,
And tender winds stroked my face.
But when I come to you, my native land,
I'm overjoyed deep inside.


When I'm away from you for just a day,
I feel as if I am an orphan.
You are the beauty of this endless world,
The graceful light that shines bright at night

But Baytimerov's words, in the early 1990s, were not considered evocative enough by Tatarstan's politicians and intellectuals.

"That time was rather tense, and moreover, some Tatar 'palace poets' wanted to make some money by creating a new text, so with their advice the Tatar leadership decided just to postpone the solution of the problem until better times," says Rim Gilfanov, the director of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Contest Organized

In 2012, with momentum in the Tatar parliament to finalize the text, Ratnikova's commission -- which is made up of parliament deputies and literature and music professors -- organized a competition for the public to write the lyrics for the Tatar national anthem. The commission received around 200 submissions, both in Tatar and Russian. In the end, however, the text the commission chose was a slightly altered version of Baytimerov's poem.

(WATCH: The proposed anthem)

One of the trickier tasks for the commission was to strike a balance between Tatar and Russian, both of which are official languages in the republic.

While the number of Tatar speakers has grown since the 1980s, Russian is still most commonly used in the republic and Tatar nationalists feel their language is under threat. At the end of 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a controversial new language law that guarantees education in Russian. The new law, which goes into effect in September, states that classes in non-Russian languages cannot be conducted to the detriment of Russian-language teaching.

Some ethnic Russian residents, who make up almost half of Tatarstan's population, protested against the mandatory teaching of Tatar in Russian schools in 2012.

In the end, the commission decided that two couplets of the anthem will be in Tatar and two in Russian, with the Tatar sung first. "What we really wish for is that all the couplets, including the Tatar ones, are sung also by non-Tatars living in Tatarstan," said Ratnikova.

Of its 83 federal parts, Russia has 23 republics, which are based on the ethnicity of their indigenous populations. The republics are allowed their own languages and constitutions.

These republics vary widely on their approaches to anthems. Tatarstan's neighboring republic of Bashkortostan has long had an anthem with words, with the Bashkir part sung before the Russian. Daghestan doesn't have an official anthem, but a well-known tune, translated into Russian from Avar, is considered to be a "popular" anthem.

In Chechnya, the music and lyrics to the republic's anthem were composed by Akhmed Kadyrov, the former leader who was assassinated in 2004 and the father of current President Ramzan Kadyrov. The Chechen song, however, is never performed at official events, where the Russian national anthem is preferred.

The parliament will vote on whether to approve Tatarstan's anthem during its next session on February 21.

Tatarstan is the host of the 2013 Summer Universiade, an international sports meet for university students. "With the Universiade 2013 approaching it will be nice to hear our anthem at international sporting events," Ratnikova says.
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