Monday, April 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russian Republics Very Conscious of Their Constitutional Status and Upset by Moscow’s Efforts to Undermine It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Just as was the case with the union republics at the end of the Soviet period, so too the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation today are increasingly conscious of their constitutional status and political institutions and increasingly upset when Moscow appointees ignore them.

            The growth of such feelings, which inevitably are difficult to measure, comes in response to suggestions that the non-Russian republics should be disbanded or amalgamated into larger and predominantly ethnic Russian units, but it is obvious from three very different articles that have appeared in the republics in the last week.

            Last week, Tuva became the fifth non-Russian republic to complete the publication of a scientific-practical commentary on the republic constitution for use by judges, lawyers, and the expert community.  It was preceded in this by Adygeya, Buryatia, North Osetia-Alania, and Karelia (

            Ayas Saaya, the chairman of Tuva’s Constitutional Court, who oversaw this process, said that Tuva has “a very rich history” of constitutional law and research on that subject. No federal subject of the Russian Federation has had as many constitutions – Tuva has had eight in all – and it is “strong” both in terms of research and publications.

            Intriguingly, Saaya promised that the two-volume constitutional commentary will soon be issued online to help both the courts of Tuva and officials and researchers elsewhere to draw on the republic’s experiences, its specific cases, and its history of interpretation and re-interpretation of the law.

            Also last week, Yury Yerofeyev, a former member of the Supreme Soviet of the Mari ASSR who writes frequently on legal issues of the non-Russian republics, argued that citizens should focus on the legislative rather than executive branches of the republics because they could have more influence there ( 

            Unfortunately, he said, citizens of Mari El have not made use of this opportunity, and he complained that the Moscow-imposed republic head was responsible.  But he noted that other non-Russian republics have. And he pointedly suggested that Maris of all political stripes have an interest in following their lead.

             Yerofeyev’s criticism and suggestions struck a chord with residents of that Finno-Ugric republic in the Middle Volga. As of this date, 22 of them wrote extensive comments disputing that writer’s pessimism about some things, accepting it in others, and welcoming the comparisons with other republics.     

             And a third article, also from Mari El, underscores growing republic consciousness by again suggesting that Moscow-appointed officials and their local supporters have been ignoring both republic law and national traditions in their race to elaborate various symbols of the republic.

           According to Yoshkar-Ola commentator V. Igitov, these officials have even dismissed other officials who have dared to suggest that a republic’s shield should be the republic’s business and reflect its national traditions, something that can only infuriate Maris who care about their nation (

           Such reactions, and these are only the latest, are a clear indication that Moscow’s approach is generating a backlash in the non-Russian republics, the very kind of anti-Moscow nationalism the Kremlin says it is undermining by its proposals and yet another parallel with the events at the end of Soviet times.


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