N 4-5, 10.07.2001


My work for the Tatar-Bashkir Service of Radio Liberty


By Sabirzyan BADRETDIN

Gradually, Mr. Agi began to rely on me as a de facto Deputy Director. Whenever he went on vacation, he would ask me to fly to Munich and be in charge of the Service. During his absences I attended the Directors’ meetings, determined the contents of our broadcasts and edited everybody’s scripts. Due to these additional responsibilities, I had to fly to Munich every year and spend a couple of months of each year in Germany.

During my stay in Munich in 1990, I had to learn to read live news for the first time in my life. I remember being both very nervous and excited. Farida Wahlroos and I took turns reading the news items during a 10-minute live broadcast. Despite Farida’s encouragement and support, I made many mistakes and stumbled a few times. This was on June 30. A few days later I interviewed President Gorbachev’s former scientific advisor, one of the most prominent space researchers, Roald Sagdeev. I spoke to him by telephone, after having a brief conversation with his wife, Susan Eisenhower. The same week I interviewed two more interesting people: one of the founders of the Tatar Public Center, Marat Mulukov, and the famous Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Jemilev (Kirimoglu). All these interviews were immediately broadcast and later re-broadcast again.

But the most memorable day of my sojourn in Munich in 1990 was July 4. The event of that day had nothing to do with the Radio. On that day Germany defeated England in the final match of the world soccer championship. Before that event I thought of Germans as a very calm, reserved people. How wrong I was! On July 4, 1990, barely a year after Germany’s re-unification, the streets of normally sleepy Munich were completely transformed: cars packed with soccer fans were honking loudly and endlessly, the German flag was displayed almost on every building and vehicle, young men and women were laughing, screaming and hugging each other, some of them yelling at the top of their lungs: "Deutschland! Deutschland!" The pent-up feeling of national pride was on full display. It was unforgettable. I felt a bit envious because I knew that most Tatars would never dare to express their national feeling in such an emotional way. Most Tatars’ national feelings are extremely subdued or simply non-existent.

My next visit to Munich was in 1991. Mr. Agi was vacationing in Spain, where he had a summer house. I remained in charge of the Tatar-Bashkir Service. One weekend, I joined an American friend from the Radio’s Research Institute for a day of hiking in the Alps several hours south of Munich. After hiking the whole day in the mountains, we decided to take a break and have lunch in one of the little cafes in the hills. We were sitting at a table on a terrace overlooking the mountains and listening to the German music broadcast on local radio. Suddenly, the musical program was interrupted by an announcement: a coup is taking place in Russia, tanks are on the streets of Moscow and a new government organ called GKChP is taking power from Soviet President Gorbachev. I decided to return immediately to Munich to make sure that the news about the coup would be broadcast by the Tatar-Bashkir Service as soon as possible. Usually, news about extraordinarily important events was broadcast immediately, without regard to the broadcasting schedule. But I was a few hours of driving away from Munich. How could I get to the office in time? August 19, 1991, was a day off, so I assumed that most of my colleagues would be away from the city. I thought I would have to call them all one by one and ask them to come to the office. But to my surprise, when I called the office of Radio Liberty, most of my colleagues were already there. I was relieved to find out that despite a slight delay, our program on the coup in Russia was on the air within a short period of time.

In 1991, after the retirement of Gayaz Khakimouglou, a new person joined the Tatar- Bashkir Service. An extremely bright and hard working woman named Riva Rudisser started working in the Munich office. Riva was born in the republic of Mordovia in Russia and spent much of her youth in Kazakhstan. She was perfectly fluent in Tatar, Kazakh, Russian, and German. In addition, she could easily make herself understood in French, and was making fast progress studying English. Ferit Agi assigned her to do live news. She was very friendly, engaging, and good humored.

A few months later, the Tatar Bashkir Serivce acquired one more new member, a Bashkir woman named Takmila Matthews. Takmila lived in Dachau with her German husband, Heinz. With her arrival, the Tatar- Bashkir Service was finally able to start broadcasting regularly in Bashkir, as well as in Tatar. The Bashkir language is closely related to Tatar and is spoken mostly in the republic of Bashkortostan in Russia where Takmila was born. Throughout most of its existence, the Tatar- Bashkir Service broadcast almost exclusively in the language of the Volga Tatars, spoken in the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. But some of our programs were occasionally broadcast in Bashkir, Crimean Tatar, and even Russian. Ours was the only service which broadcast in several languages.

Most Tatars, about 75 percent, live outside Tatarstan and never had a chance to learn their native language. Therefore, it would have been reasonable for our service to include more Russian-language programs. That is what I suggested to Mr. Agi, but he dismissed my suggestion, saying that our "target audience" is the Tatar-speaking population. I was not very convinced by his explanation, partly because many letters from our listeners addressed specifically to the Tatar-Bashkir Service were written in Russian. Letters from our listeners were a great inspiration for all of us. They were tangible proof that our work was not in vain. Some listeners praised our programs. Others offered advice or gave valuable suggestions and a few even asked to help them relocate to Germany. In one typical letter, someone named Nazmeev Yasavi wrote from the city of Izhevsk:

"I’ve been listening to your programs since the end of November. Quite by chance I stumbled upon your frequency and was surprised that people abroad speak such perfect Tatar, especially Fanis Ishimbay [Garip Sultan]."

He continued, a few paragraphs later:

"I have a few observations and suggestions. You are right to announce broadcast schedules of your programs according to local time in Moscow and Ufa. But you can’t make such announcements based on the local time in Kazan because Kazan is in the same time zone as Moscow." [This paragraph requires explanation: The Tatar- Bashkir Service knew perfectly well that Kazan and Moscow were in the same time zone and that the usual practice in Kazan was to refer to "Moscow time." But as a matter of ethnic pride, we made a point of using the expression "Kazan time."]

It took me a while before I got used to Latin-based Tatar keyboard.

It took me a while before I got used to Latin-based Tatar keyboard.

In 1991, RFE/RL introduced computers to its offices. By the end of the year virtually all the employees were using computers. At that time, using e-mail and word processors was a novelty. Mr. Agi made the decision to use the Latin-based Tatar keyboards. I had to switch from Cyrillic to Latin fonts. This made reading and writing my scripts more difficult. It took me a while before I got used to Latin-based Tatar keyboard.

Computers made a big difference in my work because I tend to write and re-write sentences several times when I work on a text. I tried to make my scripts as simple as possible. I kept in mind Mr. Sultan’s jocular advice: "Keep the sentences simple. Even a chicken should be able to understand a radio script." He was right: frequent interference during radio transmission makes simplicity of style imperative. A listener who misses even one word may fail to understand the whole text. This does not mean, of course, that ideas should also be simple. On the contrary, complex ideas are sometimes easier to express with simple sentences. I remember my friendly disputes with Farida, who relished writing long, complicated sentences filled with rarely used Tatar words of Turkish, Arabic and Persian origin. She justified this by saying that our programs ought to appeal primarily to the Tatar intelligentsia in Kazan thirsty for an intellectual challenge and who would appreciate linguistic sophistication. I, on the other hand, believed that our programs had to have the broadest possible appeal, which meant paying special attention to Tatars in the diaspora, most of whom are at different stages of linguistic assimilation and who understand only basic Tatar. I, therefore, tried not to use archaic Turkish or Arabic words and instead included many Russian words that had become a part of the Tatar vocabulary. Perhaps both Farida and I were right, after all: we had to pay specific attention to both segments of the Tatar audience.

The year 1991 was especially memorable for me due to a particularly happy occasion: I became a US citizen. It was an exciting and joyful event. From that time on I could vote in local and general elections, serve as a juror, travel freely abroad without any restrictions and, most importantly, feel that I belonged to a great nation that is a bulwark of freedom and democracy in the world. Before I became a citizen, I could not stay in Munich for more than a couple of months without jeopardizing my application for citizenship. Both Mr. Sultan and Mr. Agi wanted me to work in Munich on a permanent basis. That was not possible before 1991. As soon as I became a citizen, Mr. Agi insisted that I move to Germany. I was reluctant to do so but had no other choice but to agree.

E-mail: irek@moris.ru