Education

The Geography Indian Chess Grandmasters

The prolific blogger, economist, and public intellectual Tyler Cowen recently reposted a map on the geography of Indian chess grandmasters (reproduced below). The map was originally posted on X [Twitter] by “The_Equationist” under the heading “This chart speaks for itself.” I am not sure that it does, nor do several of Cowen’s commenters. But for those who understand the basic spatial contours of socio-economic development in India, the map does show a familiar pattern. Almost all Indian grandmasters come from the more economically vibrant and educationally developed states of southern and south-central India. Conversely, few come from the densely populated and economically lagging Ganges Valley, India’s historical core, or indeed from any other northern part of the country. Based on socioeconomic development alone, one might expect a few more grandmasters from Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi, but the pattern remains unexceptional.

What is especially striking is that three states in particular stand out for producing grandmasters: West Bengal (labeled here simply as “Bengal”), Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. But again, for those familiar with the geography of Indian intellectual life, this pattern is not particularly surprising. West Bengal has long been famed as India’s intellectual center, particularly in fields in the humanities. This feature of Indian geography has occasionally hit home. I few years ago, I was peripherally involved in a search at Stanford University for a new faculty member specializing in the history of modern South Asia. Well into the process, a South Asian member of the search committee asked whether the rest of us had noticed that all the top candidates were Bengali, hailing from West Bengal. I had not noticed.

Tamil Nadu, which really stands out on the map, is also famous for the intellectual achievements of its inhabitants, which veer in a more scientific and technical direction. Such intellectuality is particularly notable among the Tamil Brahmins (or “Tam Brahms”), who have been subjected to some reverse discrimination in their homeland and are thus well represented abroad. Maharashtra does not have the same intellectual reputation as the other two states, but it is, in many regards, India’s economic standout and its center of popular-culture production.

One of Cowen’s commenters, Sathish, mentions that almost all of Tamil Nadu’s grandmasters come from its largest city, Chennai (formerly Madras), noting as well that 15 of the 29 studied at the same school. Another commenter, sxb, provides the necessary background information:

It started in the 50s with the first Indian international Master, Manuel Aaron. He started the Tal chess club in Chennai, brought in Soviet chess books and even a Soviet Grandmaster for a month with more visiting and Anand, the Indian prodigy, was his pupil. Basically all the local players worthy of note went through that chess club. It blossomed from there.  Anand was born and lives in Chennai and has been a great role model for chess in India and got many youngsters interested in the game.

 

As geographers have long noted, place matters. So does personality, as this story so well demonstrates.

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The Precocious Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Tragic Love Story of Mem and Zin

In the massive scholarly literature on nationalism, a distinction is made between “modernist” and “primordialism” interpretations of the phenomenon. Scholars adhering to the former camp, who constitute the majority, generally argue that nationalism did not emerge until the late 18th century (with the French Revolution) or the early 19th century (with the rise of nationalistic romanticism). Some writers in the latter group, in contrast, argue that nationalistic sentiments can be dated as far back as ancient times, when they were supposedly found among such peoples as the Egyptians and the Israelites. (I have always found this debate somewhat sterile: some aspects of nationalism are indeed of long standing, but nationalism as a coherent discourse emerged more recently.) Almost all scholars agree that modern nationalism emerged in the West. Most trace its origin to Europe, although Benedict Anderson, arguably the most influential scholar on the topic, located its genesis primarily in Latin America. Despite the celebration that his work received, Anderson remained frustrated that other scholars tended to bypass his thesis on Latin America.

One particular form of nationalism, which we might call “state-seeking ethnonationalism,” is almost always traced to Central and Eastern Europe. In this formation, a stateless group of people with a common language and culture seeks to create its own country, either by uniting small states into a much larger ethnic union or by seceding from one or more multilingual empires to establish a new ethnonational state. In Europe, the Germans and Italians are commonly viewed as having pioneered this approach to nation-state formation. After Germany and Italy emerged as states circa 1870, and handful of ethnic groups located further to the east struggled for decades to create their own ethnonational countries. This process began to reach fruition after WW I, with the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires, and was finally completed (in Europe at least) after the Cold War, which saw the break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.

The national history of the Kurdish people, however, tells a different story, as ethnonational consciousness in some form seems to date back at least to the late 17th century. The Kurds at the time were divided between the multicultural Ottoman and Persian empires. Both empires were decentralized by modern standards, and several hereditary Kurdish statelets (emirates, or principalities) enjoyed considerable autonomy, especially in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But despite such local self-rule, the Kurds lacked anything like a state of their own, and some Kurdish intellectuals chafed under their subordination to the imperial rule of other peoples. As a result, an inchoate form of state-seeking Kurdish ethno-nationalism does seem to be traceable to the early modern period.

The key figure in early Kurdish nationalism was Ehmedê Xanî‎ (or Ahmad Khani), a poet, Sufi mystic, and intellectual, who lived from 1650 to 1707. His tragic love story, Mem and Zin (Mem û Zîn) is often regarded as the key work of classical Kurdish literature, and has even been deemed a “consecrated Kurdish national epic.” Based on a true story from the fifteenth century, Mem and Zin centers on two ill-fated lovers from rival clans, and thus bears superficial resemblance to Romeo and Juliet. The inability of the two protagonists to unite in life is usually interpreted as an allegory of the inability of the Kurds to unite and thus gain freedom from their imperial overlords.  One verse from Mem and Zin has been singled out as the quintessential statement of thwarted Kurdish national longings: If we had unity among ourselves, if we all, together, obeyed one another, the Turks, the Arabs, and the Persians would one and all be in our servitude.”

In an insightful analysis of the poem, Michiel Leezenberg argues that its nationalistic aspects were not enshrined and the Kurdish political imagination until the late 19th century, thus giving it a somewhat modernist gloss. Previously, Mem and Zin had been valued mostly for its expression of mystical love. But regardless of how the poem was interpreted in early periods, it does seem clear that Xanî himself was a devoted (proto?) nationalist. Considering the current division of Kurdistan among Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, as well as the lack of unity among the Kurdish people, Xanî‎’s vision seems more relevant today than ever.

In 1992, Mem and Zin was made into a motion picture in Turkey, although it had to be filmed in Turkish because the Kurdish language was at the time illegal in the country’s public’s sphere. In 2002, it finally came to the screen in the Kurdish (Kurmanji) language, filmed as a miniseries by Kurdistan TV (based in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan). According to director Nasir Hassan, it was “the most substantial and the most sophisticated artistic work ever done in Kurdistan, … using a crew of more than 1000 people and 250 actors.”

Despite Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish nationalism, it allowed and indeed supported the restoration of the mausoleum of the two historical lovers. According to one source, a staggering 1 trillion Turkish lira (650 million US dollars) was devoted to this Mem and Zin project. As reported by a local mayor who helped guide the restoration, “By restoring a historical piece that has become a ruin, we hope to contribute to tourism and pass it on to the next generations.”

The hope that the restored mausoleum would attract international as well as domestic tourists has apparently not been in vain. In August 2022, a Turkish newspaper reported with some excitement that a Chinese couple had recently paid their respects. The Chinese man, a Muslim convert named Nurettin Dong, has pledged to bring the story of Mem and Zin to China. As he put it, “I translated 2,500 couplets to Chinese. I am excited this will lead to greater recognition of this work.”

The mausoleum of Mem and Zin is located near the Turkish city of Cizre, just north of the Syrian border and not far from that of Iraq. A one-time center of Kurdish culture, as the capital of the autonomous emirate of Bohtan (see the second map below), Cizre has seen its share of tragedy. As summarized by the Wikipedia article on the city:

Under Ottoman control, Cizre stagnated and was left as a small district centre dominated by ruins by the end of the 19th century. The city’s decline continued, exacerbated by the state-orchestrated destruction of its Christian population in the Armenian and Assyrian genocides in 1915, and exodus of its Jewish population to Israel in 1951. It began to recover in the second half of the 20th century through urban redevelopment, and its population saw a massive increase as a place of refuge from 1984 onwards as many fled the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. At the close of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, Cizre has emerged as a battleground between Kurdish militants and the Turkish state, which inflicted significant devastation on the city to retain control.

If Kurdish nationalism can be said to date back to the 17th century, the Kurdish nation itself –stateless though it still is – may have far deeper roots. We will look at this intriguing primordialist interpretation in the next GeoCurrents post

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The Geography of Education in Montana (and the Rest of the United States)

Education levels vary widely across the United States, as can be seen on the map to the left. (Unfortunately, this map of high school graduates has an extremely broad lowest category, reducing its utility.) The patterns seen here are relatively simple. Low rates of high-school education are found across the rural southeast, and particularly in Kentucky. Agricultural counties in the West that have large populations of farm workers also have low rates of educational attainment. In contrast, rural counties in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains characterized by ranching and mechanized farming generally have high levels of secondary-school graduates.  Basic educational attainment rates are also high across most of the north, as well as in suburban counties across the county.

Overall, Montana is shown as having a high rate of secondary school completion, but county-level variation is pronounced. Few clear patterns are apparent on the map, and some of the information is curious, such as the lower educational levels found in two small counties (Liberty and Wheatland). Intriguingly, Montana counties with large Native American reservations all fall in middle category.

 

As is apparent on the third map, the United States is much more geographically differentiated when it comes to college education. Here the north/south divide is less glaring, although still visible. What stands out is the high percentages of bachelor’s degrees in three different geographical categories: affluent urban and suburban countries, especially those associated with tech hubs; non-metropolitan countries with major universities (typified by adjoining Whitman County in eastern Washington and Latah County in northwestern Idaho); and affluent high-amenity rural counties in the West (typified by Pitkin County, Colorado).

Montana’s rates of college completion are relatively high. Even many of the state’s sparsely populated agricultural counties have at least mid-level rates. Gallatin County in the southwest stands out for its elevated figure. Not only is Gallatin the home of Montana State University, but it is also becoming a small tech hub. More recently, it has attracted many well-educated remote workers, as discussed in previous posts.

Patterns similar to those found on the college-completion map are apparent on the map of graduate and professional degrees. A few seeming anomalies, however, stand out. I was perplexed, for example, by the dark green polygon in a remote corner of west Texas: Jeff Davis County (population 1,996). As it turns out, Jeff Davis is the site of the McDonald Observatory, a major scientific institution. Presidio County, just to the southeast, also ranks surprisingly high on this map. The answer to this puzzle is found in the county seat of Marfa, which, despite its small size (1,600), is a “cultural center for contemporary artists and artisans.” In 2012, National Public Radio described Marfa as “An Unlikely Art Oasis in A Desert Town.” (But although it is indeed an “unlikely art oasis,” Marfa is not a “desert town”; receiving over 15 inches of precipitation annually, its climate is distinctly semi-arid.)

Three Montana counties stand out on the map of advanced and professional degrees: Missoula, Gallatin, and Lewis and Clark. The first two are the homes of the state’s two major universities, and the third contains the state capital, Helena.

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Tatarstan: A “Hostage of Freezing Relations between Russia and Turkey”?

[Many thanks to Ekaterina Lyutikova for most helpful discussions of some of the issues discussed in this post, as well as for the photos, some of which are used as illustrations below. I’m also grateful to Martin W. Lewis for helpful discussions and edits and for modifying the Wikipedia map of Percentage of Ethnic Tatars, used below.]

Tatarstan_location

Tatarstan has not been much of a geopolitical hotspot in recent years and has largely remained “under the radar” for most mainstream Western media. This may soon change, however, if the present trends continue. Rapidly worsening relations between Russia and Turkey, as well as Tatarstan’s ambivalence in relation to both, lead experts such as Rais Suleimanov to doubt its continued peaceful existence; the quote in the title of this post is from Suleimanov’s recent article titled “Tatarstan can not decide: is it a part of Russia or a governorate of Turkey”. (All translations from Russian in this post are mine.)

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As can be seen from the maps in the previous posts (see here, here, and here), Tatarstan is one of the most economically and socially developed regions of the Russian Federation. Although it lags in per capita GDP behind such resource-rich yet sparsely populated regions as Nenets Autonomous Okrug or Chukotka, Tatarstan registers lower alcoholism and crime rates, as well as longer life expectancy for both genders. According to maps reposted from Kommersant.ru, an average resident of Tatarstan receives a reasonably balanced diet (blue map), and the overall obesity rate in the republic is relatively low (orange map).

 

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According to the data from the Federal State Statistics Service, Tatarstan ranks 9th of 83 regions by the percentage of university students (4.7% of total population). Two of the country’s three dozen national research universities are located in Kazan, Tatarstan’s capital: Kazan State Technological University (founded in 1890) and Kazan State Technical University named after A. N. Tupolev (established in 1932). Moreover, Kazan (Volga region) Federal University, founded in 1804, is Russia’s second oldest university. The eminent mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky served there as the rector from 1827 until 1846, and the list of the university’s famous students includes Vladimir Lenin (expelled for revolutionary activity), Leo Tolstoy (quit his studies), and composer Mily Balakirev (graduated in 1855).

Kazan, TatarstanKazan, Tatarstan 2Further contributing to its livability is the extraordinary cleanliness of Tatarstan’s cities, towns, and villages, including its capital Kazan, a metropolis of nearly 1.2 million, as can be seen from the photos of city center on the left. The striking cleanliness of the Tatars, noticeable particularly in the lack of rubbish on the streets and the general appearance of houses and yards, has caught the attention of many a traveler to the region. A good example is Jonas Stadling, who wrote an account of the famine in Eastern Russia in 1892, published in The Century magazine (volume 46, p. 560). As Stadling wrote: “The Tatars made a very favorable impression by their cleanliness and politeness”. Similar mentions of exceptional cleanliness are made also in David Lewis’ After Atheism (p. 126), Paul William Werth’s At the Margins of Orthodoxy (p. 164), and in many other sources. dvornik-2The character of a Tatar yardman/caretaker, sweeping the grounds of some large building in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, makes frequent appearance in Russian 19th-century fictional and memoir literature, including Dostoyevsky’s works.* (The Volga Tatars’ ethno-linguistic “relatives”, the Crimean Tatars, made the same impression on travelers such as German explorer Gustav Radde, who traveled to Crimea in 1850s and noted the “special care about cleanliness of [Crimean Tatar] homes and bodies” in his ethnographic treatise about the group.)

Not only does Tatarstan manage to optimize economic and social development, but its economy is more balanced than that of Russian regions with higher per capita GDP. In the 1970s-80s, Tatarstan was one of the largest oil producing areas in the USSR, but starting in the mid-1990s, the Republic has managed to diversify its economy. Tatarstan’s overall GDP is less than a third of that of Tumen or Sakhalin oblast, but much less of it, only 21.3%, comes from natural resources (chiefly unrefined oil), compared to 54.6% in Tumen oblast, 61.6% in Sakhalin, or the whopping 71% in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. According to Deputy of the State Council of Tatarstan Rafael Khakimov, “since 1996 … we switched to the deep processing of oil, to the development of industry as a whole, to the high-tech manufacturing, aeronautics and IT‑technologies. We succeeded in doing that and today we depend on crude oil exports only minimally.” A substantial share of Tatarstan’s GDP comes from manufacturing (18.3% in 2012), trade and real estate operations (24.1%), construction (10.4%), and agriculture (6%). Several sources note a 5% growth in Tatarstan’s agricultural output in 2015, particularly in crop and milk production. (The latter makes sense since Tatarstan has the highest dairy consumption rate in Russia, 364 kg, or over 800 lbs, per capita per year.) Tatarstan was also ranked highest in “innovation activity” in 2015, well ahead of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and Novosibirsk.

But Tatarstan’s economy may take a serious hit in the near future as a result of rapidly worsening relations between Russia and Turkey. A significant contributing factor to Tatarstan’s prosperity in recent years has been investments by Turkish businesses, to the tune of $1.5–2 billion, according to different sources (see here and here), which constitutes one fourth of all foreign investments in Tatarstan, and one sixth of all Turkish investments in the Russian Federation. Among those Turkish investments are “about a dozen of major enterprises built by Turkish investors … located in the Alabuga special economic zone” in north-central Tatarstan, notes Russian News Agency TASS. Unlike the case with many Chinese-owned business in Russia’s Far East, “98% of workers [in Turkish-owned businesses in Tatarstan] are Russian nationals”.

For the last 15 years, the relationship between Russia and Turkey has generally been very productive. But on November 24, 2015, the relations between the two countries took a nose-dive after Russia’s Su-24 bomber was shot down in Syria by an air-to-air missile fired from a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. Russia’s President Putin responded harshly, calling the attack “a stab in Russia’s back delivered by terrorists’ accomplices”, according to Russian News Agency TASS. Two days later, Russia introduced economic sanctions against Turkey, which prohibited “the imports of many Turkish food products including fruits, vegetables, poultry and salt and imposed a ban on hiring Turkish nationals”, as reported in The Moscow Times. According to an early RBC report, other measures considered by the Russian government include freezing of economic cooperation programs, restrictions on financial operations and commercial transactions, the revision of customs duties, and “interventions” in tourism, air transportation, and shipping. Several large-scale cooperative projects also fell under these restrictive measures: for example, the proposed “Turkish Stream” natural gas pipeline was suspended by Russia and subsequently terminated by the Turkish side. Similarly, the fate of what was to become Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, located in Akkuyu in southern Anatolia, is now unclear. The abovementioned RBC report concluded that these measures would “unavoidably hit both Turkish and Russian businesses”. Because of Tatarstan’s extensive economic ties with Turkey, it is liable to be among the worst-hit regions of the Russian Federation.

Tatars

However, Tatarstan’s relations with Turkey go far beyond their economic ties. Speaking of Turkey in December 2015, Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minnikhanov (note the title, more on that below!) reportedly said: “We are in the same language group, of the same religious identity”. The Republic’s titular ethnic group, the Tatars (or more precisely, the Volga Tatars), who constitute 53% of Tatarstan’s population, speak a Turkic language. According to the 2002 census, moreover, 96.3% of Tatars still speak their ancestral language, making them one of the most successful minority groups in Russia in preserving their linguistic identity.** Although little-known outside Russia (and indeed to many people in Russia), Tatar is the 7th largest Turkic language globally and the largest Turkic language in the Russian Federation. In fact, with over 5.3 million speakers, it is the 2nd most widely spoken native language in Russia. The Tatar and Turkish languages are traditionally classified as belonging to different branches of the Turkic language family (Kipchak and Oghuz, respectively); nonetheless, there are many linguistic similarities between them and the internal classification of Turkic languages remains controversial. While I disagree with Bernard Lewis, who wrote in The Middle East. A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years that “the differences between these various languages were no greater than between the vernaculars spoken in the Arab lands from Iraq to Morocco”, similarities between Tatar and Turkish are much greater than those between languages from different branches of the Indo-European family, such as English and Russian.

Another link between Tatars and Turks is that of religion: both groups are Sunni Muslims. Rais Suleimanov, an expert on influences of foreign Muslim groups within Russia, particularly in the Middle Volga region, has written extensively on how “Turkish emissaries for decades influenced the minds and hearts of our [Tatar] compatriots” (his multi-part article can be read here and a shorter version here). Moreover, the Grand Mufti of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin studied in Turkey under Mahmut Ustaosmanoğlu, the leader of influential İsmailağa Jamia.

Yet historical and cultural links between Tatarstan and Turkey go deeper still. Symbolic of this connection is the planned installation of a monument to the prominent statesman and scholar Sadri Maksudi Arsal, a Tatarstan native who moved after the Bolshevik Revolution to Turkey where he worked as an advisor to the first President of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The monument was supposed to be opened in Kazan’s Istanbul (!) Park in December 2015 by Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. After the events in late November, Erdoğan’s visit was cancelled. Around the same time, the Yunus Emre Institute for Turkish Studies at the Kazan Federal University, opened as a Turkish “soft power” initiative in 2012, was closed. As part of the anti-Turkish measures, the Russian Ministry of Culture circulated a “recommendation” to all republics with Turkic titular populations, including Tatarstan, to break off relations with the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TÜRKSOY).***

As a result of this confrontation between Russia and Turkey, Tatarstan found itself between Scylla and Charybdis, and its response has been rather cautious and ambivalent. According to Rais Suleimanov,

most federal subjects [in the Volga region] exhibited solidarity with the federal center. The only exception was Tatarstan, which adopted a not-completely-loyal attitude in relation to the federal center, preferring not to spoil its relations with Turkey, simultaneously sending clear signals to Ankara: “we are not on the side of Moscow”.

Moreover, Suleimanov points out that Tatarstan’s “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” position has been in marked contrast to that of Bashkortostan, a neighboring region that also has a substantial Turkic-speaking Muslim population (in addition to its Turkic titular ethnic group, the Bashkir, Bashkortostan also has a significant Tatar population and a smaller group of Chuvash, which combined constitute 57.6% of the republic’s population). Yet, Bashkortostan’s authorities, Suleimanov says, “have chosen not to depart from the political line of the federal center”. After adopting a wait-and-see position for some time, Tatarstan ultimately refused to follow Minister Vladimir Medinsky’s “recommendation” regarding TÜRKSOY, and the Republic’s officials questioned whether the federal Ministry of Culture can “dictate” to regional cultural authorities. Tatarstan’s cultural authorities certainly have good grounds for their resistance, which can be understood through a brief historical excursion.

The Expansion of Russia

Tatarstan has a long history of being under Russian rule. After a brutal siege and assault, Kazan was taken in 1552 by Ivan the Terrible (Saint Basil’s Cathedral at the edge of Red Square in Moscow commemorates the event). The conquest of Kazan marked the second wave of non-ethnic-Russian territories annexed by Moscow (shown in green on the map on the left). (The first wave, shown in purple, included Finnic-speaking groups, such as Merya, Meschera, Murom, and Veps, which were largely absorbed in the 11-12th centuries, as well as the still-surviving Komi and Nenets populations.) Although technically a sovereign tsardom in personal union with Russia, Tatarstan was henceforth administered from Moscow. In 1708, in the course of Peter the Great’s administrative reform, the Kazan tsardom was transformed into a gubernia (governorate), to be administered by a governor sent from Saint-Petersburg. The first governor was Peter Apraksin, a close associate of Peter I, handpicked to oversee the strategically important area. At the time, Tatarstan supplied timber for naval use and horses for the cavalry, and its workshops on the Volga River built ships for Peter’s new navy. Revealingly, the Wikipedia list of governors contains no Tatar names. Quite a few of the region’s governors, however, were of German descent. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Tatarstan became an Autonomous Republic within the Russian Union Republic, but despite this title, it had little real autonomy. Several proposals were considered to upgrade its status to that of a union republic, but all were rejected. But despite their lack of self-rule for over four centuries, the Tatars managed to retain a sense of ethnic and cultural identity, and, as mentioned above, their indigenous language (nearly all Tatars speak it as their mother-tongue, compared to only less than half of the Khanty people, a quarter of the Mansi, and 12% of the Itelmen, according to the 2002 census).

On the eve of the fall of the Soviet Union, in August 1990, Tatarstan issued a Declaration of State Sovereignty, and after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 it continued on the course for separation from Russia. In a referendum conducted in March 1992, over half of the votes were cast for the independence, and in November of the same year a Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan was adopted, declaring it a sovereign state. However, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation declared those documents to be illegal. In February 1994, Russia offered an autonomy agreement to Tatarstan, promising a broad range of rights and policy-making abilities, but stopping short of full independence. (The same agreement was offered to Chechnya, which did not accept it.) Tatar authorities accepted the deal, giving Tatarstan many of the institutions of a full-fledged sovereign state, including a constitution, a legislature, a tax code, a national bank, and its own citizenship system. The Kazan government can conduct its own relations with other subjects of the Russian Federation and even foreign states, and can set its own foreign economic policy and trade relations. But it remains to be seen how much actual economic independence will be allowed by Russia.

Tellingly, the head of state in Tatarstan is called “President”, again in marked contrast to Chechnya and other ethnic republics within Russia. (This would be analogous to having a “President of California” who would nonetheless be under the power of President of the USA.) While it may seem a trivial matter, labels can matter a great deal, and Tatarstan fought tooth and nail to preserve its right to call its head a President. A Russian law adopted in 2010, however, allowed for only one president—that of the Russian Federation. All internal republics, except for Tatarstan, switched to calling their heads of state glava, “head”. Tatarstan has ever since been lobbying to keep its “President”, most recently by using the 94.4% vote in favor of President Minnikhanov in the September 2015 election. (These election results may have been falsified, claims Rais Suleimanov.) While the issue has not yet been closed, it appears that Tatarstan has more leeway than Russia’s other federal subjects. This unbalanced situation “allows one to consider Russia an asymmetrical ethno-federation”, according to Suleimanov, thus forming another example of the “myth of nation state”, which GeoCurrents has written about extensively.

Kazan Kremlin

The currently brewing confrontation between the Kremlin in Moscow and the Kremlin in Kazan (see photo of the latter on the left) is not the only issue threatening Tatarstan. Suleimanov and other experts talk about a possibility, even likelihood, of exploding terrorist activity in the region. The most frightening scenarios involve an expansion of radical Islamism in Tatarstan and further forging of connections between such home-grown groups and extremist organizations based elsewhere in the Muslim world, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and ISIS.

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As indicated in ISW map of ISIS activity, discussed in an earlier GeoCurrents post, Russia has been one of the main sources of ISIS recruits. While many of them have come from the Caucasus region, a substantial number—over 200, according to some sources—are from Tatarstan and the rest of the Middle Volga region. Ironically, ISIS recruitment for the war in Iraq and Syria is said to be the chief reason for the sharp decrease in terrorist attacks within Tatarstan: while several brutal attacks shook the Republic in 2012 and 2013, there has been a relative calm in 2014-2015. But some of these ISIS fighters are now coming back from Syria to Tatarstan. Moreover, according to Suleimanov, in November 2015, ISIS propagandists released two videos in which Tatarstan is explicitly mentioned as a target of radical Islamists. Future developments in the conflict in Syria will, no doubt, have a critical impact on the situation in Tatarstan, which remains for the time being “a place to watch”.
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*One source even claims that the entire cleaning staff of the Winter Palace, over 100 people, consisted of Tatars.

**According to the same census, 96% of Tatars also know Russian to some extent.

***Although some anti-Turkish protests occurred across Russia, even in the Middle Volga region, many people felt that the Russian government’s reaction was too strong, leading several journalists and bloggers to post tongue-in-cheek proposals to “prohibit” or “rename” Turkish coffee, Turkish sweets, the espionage thriller (book and film) titled “Turkish Gambit” (set in the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War), Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, and even the music group Turetsky Choir (whose director’s last name means “Turkish” in Russian).

 

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Chile: Inequality, Education, and Geography

As noted in the previous post, Chile has a strikingly high level of income inequality despite its considerable success in social and economic development. Many observers blame Chile’s educational system for such inequity, contending that the country has many poor schools and does not spend enough money on education. As argued in a recent Council on Hemispheric Affairs article, “National and international advocates for education reform agree that Chile must significantly increase its expenditures on education to provide quality institutions and reduce inequality.” A post in an on-line publication called The Richest fleshes out this argument:

With a Gini coefficient of 0.501, Chile tops our list of countries with the most serious problem of inequality. Several factors contribute to this problem, including issues with higher education. While this has improved in recent years – many more Chileans are getting a college degree than before – most of those who land graduate jobs come from the richest schools in the country. Many of the poor go to cheaper colleges, hoping that they’ll still have the same opportunities as other graduates – only to leave college with mounting student loan debt and jobs that pay scarcely enough to cover those debts. There are several bills on the table to help improve the education system, but many of them aren’t moving very fast due to wealthy universities lobbying against them.

 

Chile has increased its educational expenditures in recent years. In 2008 (the most recent year of data availability), it devoted 4.0 percent of its GDP to education, up from 3.2 in 2006. 4.0 percent is not a particularly high number, but it is not too far below those of such educationally advanced countries as Germany (4.5%) and Australia (also 4.5%), and it exceeds that of Japan (3.5%). Those countries, however, are much richer than Chile and thus have much more to spend at the same GDP percentage level. But it is not merely how much money is spent that counts. Many critics on the left fault Chile’s decentralized and partly privatized educational system, claiming that it mainly benefits the well-off and does little to help the poor. Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet evidently agrees. As the abstract of a 2015 Pepperdine Review article by Vannia Zelaya puts it:

This paper looks into Chile’s educational system and the recent policy reforms that President Michelle Bachelet seeks to establish. More specifically, this paper explores the “Proyecto de Ley de Fin al Lucro, la Selección y el Copago,” which aims to eliminate private for-profit institutions within the public system, admission selectivity, and mandatory copay fees. With this, Bachelet’s administration and the Ministry of Education intend to end the inequality of access to education, which is part of Chile’s broader problem of great socioeconomic inequality. This particular policy is part of Bachelet’s comprehensive educational system reform, and it brings Chile’s voucher system into debate. The voucher system is explored to determine whether Chile is able to improve its situation by maintaining a privatized and decentralized system, or if it should move towards a fully public and centralized system as directed by Bachelet.

Regardless of such debates, official data indicate that Chile has done a relatively good job of providing basic education, coming close to achieving full literacy. In terms of net secondary school enrollment, however, Chile’s official figures are somewhat low, as can be seen in the map posted below. But 2013 World Bank data on the same indicator (which are measured somewhat differently from those used to make the map) place Chile at a substantially higher level, exceeding that of Australia (87% for Chile vs. 86% for Australia), although lagging behind most European countries. Chile’s levels of attendance in tertiary education, on the other hand, are quite high. Indeed, according to World Bank data on gross (rather than net) tertiary school enrollment, Chile has one of the top figures in the world, exceeding even that of Norway and well ahead of those of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. But as the quotations given earlier in this post indicate, not all Chilean colleges and universities provide high quality education.

 

Chile literacy mapLevels of education, of course, vary from one Chilean region to another. To see how they these patterns are geographically structured, I have mapped several educational indicators, again using data provided in the Wikipedia article on Ranked Lists of Chilean Regions. As can be seen, the disparities between regions Chile mean years of schooling mapare not particularly pronounced. Metropolitan Santiago scores high, as do the wealthier mining regions of the north and the highly developed region of Magallanes in the far south. The generally well-off region of Aysén* just to the north of Magallanes, however, does not rank as high as might be expected. Other oddities are the elevated figures for secondary and tertiary enrollment in certain mid-level and relatively poor regions, such as Arica Chile secondary education mapand Parinacota and Araucanía.

Chile Tertiary education map*Aysén is an interesting region, and I hope to devote an entire post to it in the near future.

 

 

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The Problematic Education Index

The United Nations’ annually published Education Index is one of the main components of the widely used Human Development Index. An accurate portrayal of educational differences among the various countries of the world would be very beneficial. I have my suspicions, however, about the Education Index, which “is measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).” But does Kazakhstan really belong in a higher educational category than Switzerland, Singapore, and Japan? Does Costa Rica really belong in the same category as Bolivia and Paraguay? Such findings rest on the premise that all countries are able, and willing, to gather and publish accurate data on such issues, which is not necessarily the case. The index fails to capture, moreover, educational intensity. I think that it is safe to assume that Japanese students in secondary school on average work more intensively than those in Greece, Uruguay, and the United States.

The Wikipedia map of the index is also problematic. The key, for example, uses the wrong color for the highest category, which I highlight by placing a square of that color on the United States. The highest and lowest color categories, moreover, are difficult to differentiate; the former is dark green and the latter dark red, but both look more “dark” than either red or green.

But despite such problems, the map does effectively portray some interesting patterns. Note the low-education zone in the Sahel belt of Africa. Note as well that Pakistan, but not Afghanistan, also falls into the lowest color category. The high standing of Latin America relative to Africa and South Asia is also significant.

 

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Geography Teachers Assaulted for Not Allowing Students to Cheat

Geography classrooms are not normally associated with violence, but that is not necessarily the case in Pakistan. Just this week, classrooms at Government National College in Karachi were ransacked and several teachers were beaten after they refused to allow students to cheat at the annual examination of a course on commercial geography. According to Dawn, Pakistan’s premier English-language newspaper, the assault was perpetuated by “political groups of outsiders.” As a result of the attack, teachers at the college organized a boycott of exam-grading duties, complaining that the institution’s officials had not taken adequate precautions to prevent violence. The Sindh Professors and Lecturers’ Association “said that it was the failure on part of the college directorate and the law-enforcement agencies that unscrupulous elements had now started demanding cheating facilities so openly and were giving threats to the lives of teachers and other college staffs.”

Cheating on examinations in Pakistan is so prevalent that it has inspired a minor YouTube genre. One recent video recounts the story of a school headmaster being “beaten by an influential feudal lord for not allowing students to cheat during matriculation examination.”

 

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Public Education and Ethnicity in Connecticut

Connecticut race and ethnicities concentrations

Connecticut Race and Ethnicities ConcentrationsConnecticut has stark contrasts in prosperity and social development, including educational quality. The map showing the percentage of students of color in Connecticut school districts demonstrates that a handful of urban areas have high concentrations of people of color, while many of the school districts in the state have mostly white students. Unfortunately, it was impossible to locate the source of the map about students’ race and ethnicity, but the 2010 United States Census reflects many of its statistics. A comparison between this map and a recent map of the best performing school districts in Connecticut from NeighborhoodScout.com suggests that lower performing districts tend to have higher percentages of students of color. The issue of segregation in the state’s public schools came to the fore in the Connecticut Supreme Court case Sheff v. O’Neill. The case was decided in 1996 in favor of the plaintiff, who argued that the dfacto inaccessibility of good public education to students of color amounted to a civil rights violation.

Connecticut school districts quality

Note that students of color are concentrated in three heavily populated cities: Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. Likewise, note that the cities of Waterbury, New London, New Britain, and Stamford, which is my hometown, have the next highest numbers of students of color—50% to 70% of enrolled students. Outside of these seven urban areas and the town school districts colored in yellow, orange, and blue, at most only 10% of students in enrolled in Connecticut public schools are non-white. Also, some of Connecticut’s highest performing public schools are in Darien, Weston, New Canaan, and Avon, which are indicated on the race and ethnicities map in grey; meanwhile, some of the state’s lowest performing public schools are in Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. Relative wealth constitutes one large factor in school performance disparities. New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford are poorer than towns such as New Canaan, Darien, and Weston, which are located in Fairfield County, the county with the seventh highest per capita income in the United States. That said, in towns such as Union and Canaan, which are more rural and have lower median household incomes, students of color represent at most 10% of the enrolled students and scores on state standardized tests are lower. Since the quality of Connecticut’s school districts reflects to a great extent the property taxes and per capita income of its residents, the two Connecticut maps show a correlation between not only race and education but also between race and income.

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South Korea Cuts University Tuition

Educational Attainment Map Wikipedia

Educational Attainment Map WikipediaThe Korea Herald announced last week that South Korean Universities would be reducing their tuition by an average of 4.5 percent. Almost all schools cut their fees, some by more than 20 percent. The move was in response to a series of well-organized student protests over the mounting costs of higher education, which were particularly intense last summer. Fee cuts are possible because the South Korean government “set aside 1.75 trillion won for tuition support in 2012 as part of its move to help relax tuition burdens.” Most universities in South Korea rely extensively on such fees, although, at an average level of US$ 8,000, they remain low by U.S. standards.

South Korea has one of the world’s most rigorous educational systems. The desire for a university education is intense, and the competition to get into the best schools can be overwhelming. Political leaders in the country have recently claimed that too many Korean students are opting to pursue higher education. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, President Lee Myung-bak claimed last autumn that, “Reckless entrance into college is bringing huge losses to families and the country alike.” The same article adding that, “Mr. Lee has raised eyebrows, and hackles, by suggesting that fewer people should go to college from a population of 50 million that sustains 3.8 million undergraduate and graduate students.”

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Vaccination, HIV Awareness, Contraception, and Literacy in India




Our final post on social development in India takes on a miscellany of indicators. The first map, showing vaccination, is notable for extreme variability, with the rate varying from 81 percent in Tamil Nadu to 21 percent in Nagaland. As expected, the center-north lags well behind the south and far north. Low rates of vaccination here are a concern, as the area is one of the world’s few remaining reservoirs of the polio virus. New immunization campaigns, however, are underway. Also notable are the very high rates of vaccination in the southeast (Andhra Pradesh and especially Tamil Nadu), and the fact that West Bengal for once outpaces Punjab, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. Clearly, the various aspects of social development advance unevenly across the states of India.

The second map, charting women’s awareness of the HIV virus, also shows pronounced variability while conforming more closely to the typical pattern of development. Of particular note are the high levels of awareness in the northeastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, generally poor areas hampered by insurgency and underdeveloped infrastructure, yet nonetheless undergoing pronounced cultural modernization. Owing to widespread outreach programs, HIV awareness has been increasing across India over the past five years. In July of 2010, a train dedicated to AIDS education streamed across northern India. According to one report, “Thousands of people from villages and towns in Assam turned up to see what the seven-coach ‘Red Ribbon Express’ train had to offer, as it chugged across the remote north eastern state earlier this month. 

The train, which has counseling and medical services, and a troupe of artists on board, is traveling across India to sensitize people about HIV.”

The third map, depicting modern contraceptive use, yields a few real oddities. Note the relatively low rates of contraception in Kerala and Goa, which are well known for their below-replacement fertility levels and strikingly high levels of general social development. The fact that roughly a third of Goa’s inhabitants are Catholic may influence this figure. In general, however, religion is not a good predictor of contraceptive use. India’s three predominately Christian (Protestant) states – Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya – have some of the highest and lowest rates of modern contraceptive use.

The final map, depicting literacy, is perhaps the most important of all. Here Kerala and Mizoram really shine, as does Himachal Pradesh in the northern Himalayan belt. Assam and Madhya Pradesh have surprisingly high figures, but the most unexpected feature of this map is the low showing of both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, seats of India’s most important information technology (IT) hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Despite major investments, both states contain pockets of entrenched poverty and illiteracy, lagging well behind Tamil Nadu and Kerala in across-the-board social development. Some of the IT magnates of southern India, along with the country’s Human Resources Development Ministry, think that a soon-to-be-released $35 computer will help address the problem. “The hope is that an affordable computer will allow more students of all ages to engage in today’s digital world, increasing the country’s standards in education and also spurring economic stimulation.”

Tomorrow’s post will conclude our exploration of Indian development.

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