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Hermitage to open first national outpost
The museum has already established branches in London and Amsterdam. Now it is to send exhibitions to Tatarstan

The State Hermitage Museum has announced that it will open its first outpost in Russia, in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan on the Volga river, a city with a population of over 1 million. The Hermitage branch is scheduled to open next year, to coincide with the city’s 1000th anniversary.

It will be housed in Kazan’s medieval fortress and the project to convert this space into a museum is to be funded by the local government and through private donations.

Oil-rich Tatarstan is a Russian “republic”, a political status with more autonomy than the country’s “regions”. As such, it enjoys significant independence from Moscow and retains control of its domestic affairs including taxation and spending policies. This autonomy has caused considerable tension in Tatarstan’s relationship with central government over the last 15 years. In the 1990s some Russian politicians feared that Tatarstan would follow Chechnya’s lead and make a bid for complete independence. The opening of a Hermitage outpost, which will initially host exhibitions celebrating Tatar culture, was negotiated by senior officials in the Tatarstan and Russian governments and represents a political rapprochement of sorts.

Nevertheless, Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, told The Art Newspaper that his museum, which is federally owned and falls under the direct supervision of President Putin, does not compromise its standards to serve a political agenda. “There is no difference between our branches in London or Kazan,” said Dr Piotrovsky. “We expect all our partners to meet our high standards of conservation and security.”

The first Hermitage exhibition to open in Kazan will be, “Treasures of the Golden Horde,” a show focusing on the Golden Horde Khanate, the medieval state set up by the Tatars. It was first seen at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in 2001.

There are 5.5 million Tatars in Russia, most of them Muslim, and they constitute the country’s second largest ethnic group. However, Russians have a deeply ingrained historical animosity towards them; in the early 13th century, medieval Russia was overrun by Mongol and Tatar armies and was subsumed into their territory for the next 250 years.

“In a certain way our inaugural show will be an ideological exhibition,” said Dr Piotrovsky. “It is an exhibition of a culture that is widely considered as an ‘enemy’ of Russia but, of course, this is the wrong way of looking at Tatar culture.”