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Tatar Schools Spared 'Financial Optimization'

Tatarstan -- Tatars protest closing Tatar schools Kazan, July 10, 2012
Tatarstan -- Tatars protest closing Tatar schools Kazan, July 10, 2012
The students and teachers of Salagish secondary school in Tatarstan's Egerce district can breathe easy and take their time preparing for final exams this week.

Their school, which has over 100 years of history, will not be closed.

Tatarstan's education ministry recently abandoned plans to close several schools in the district, including Salagish, as part of their "financial optimization" of Tatar schools.

RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir language service Radio Azatliq reported on the ministry’s plans, confronting officials with challenging questions and creating a public forum for discussion on the service’s website. Their coverage was brought to the attention of Minister of Education Engel Fattakhov and his deputies by Alsu Mukhammatova, the ministry’s press officer.

Aydar Khosnetdinov, the head of Salagish, attributed the reversal of the plan to Azatliq’s timely coverage.

In a letter of gratitude he sent to Radio Azatliq, Khosnetdinov expressed his appreciation for their reporting and the public debate it engendered, and credited Azatliq for creating hope for the future of Tatar schools.

Many of the comments posted on Azatliq’s website came from former students who claimed that authorities were lying about the schools, and who shared positive experiences instead.

As a result of Radio Azatliq's reporting, five Tatar and two Mari schools will continue to operate as before. The Mari people are an ethnic group with a significant but minority population in Tatarstan.

Pressure on ethnic and religious minorities has increased ever since Vladimir Putin was re-elected president of the Russian Federation in March 2012.

Some observers believe that ethnic politics are reflected in recent declarations by education officials that small schools are unprofitable, and in their decisions to integrate the students into larger, Russian-speaking schools which are often located as many as 20 kilometers away from rural Tatar schools.

-- Arash Shinwary