Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tatarstan’s First President Says Powers of Non-Russian Republics Can and Must be Expanded

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 4 – As he often did when he was president of Tatarstan, Mintimir Shaymiyev now in semi-retirement has spoken out in defense of the rights of Tatarstan and other non-Russian republics and very publicly argued that these rights must be expanded if the Russian Federation is to remain stable.

            In a ten-minute speech at the second inauguration of his successor Rustam Minnikhanov last month, Shaymiyev said to enormous applause that the residents of Tatarstan “like both the president himself and the title of the highest official of the republic,” a title that he says “unifies and strongly unifies us” (

                And the former president added in what some will see as a provocation: “I will tell you why: because this word isn’t subject to translation into Tatar or to Russian. That is where its force and authority lie!” – all the more so because he called on Tatars to “hold on” until the 100th anniversary of the republic in 2020.

            Shaymiyev said that the election of the republic’s president showed the way in which such votes can unify a people. Not only did rural residents overwhelmingly support the president, but residents of the capital, often the most skeptical of Tatars, backed him as well despite all the difficulties in the economy just now.

            This pattern, he continued, demonstrates that “the further strengthening of accord and mutual understanding in Tatarstan and on the whole in Russia society is passing the test of time.”

            “Particularly in the last 25 years after the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty by our republic,” Shaymiyev said, “Tatarstan like all of Russia at the beginning of the perestroika years declared the broadening of its rights while at the same time taking responsibility for securing the stable development of the republic.”

            Tatarstan has passed that test, and “a little more than five years from now,” he continued, “we Tatarstantsy will mark an historic event – the centennial of the formation of Tatarstan and its statehood.”  Soviet constitutions defined it as an autonomous republic; the Russian one defines it “as a republic possessing state sovereignty on the basis of the delimitation of authority.”

            As federal relations are “perfected” and as “the democratization of Russian society” proceeds, Shaymiyev concluded, “we will constructively give new content to our statehood in the future.”

            In a commentary on this remarkable speech entitled “We Can,” Rashit Akhmetov, the editor of “Zvezda Povolzhya,” praises Shaymiyev’s words as a reflection of the aspirations of the people of Tatarstan and extends the former president’s ideas in important ways (“Zvezda Povolzhya,” no. 35 (763), October 1-7, 2015, p. 1).

            Noting the enthusiasm with which the former republic president’s words were greeted, Akhmetov asks: “How after these words could be liquidated the title of ‘president’ before January 1, 2016?  2.3 Million votes for Minnikhanov were votes for him and also for his position.”

            The agreements Shaymiyev reached with Moscow earlier mean that his successor must retain that title. Moreover, the Kazan editor says, even Putin has recognized this by saying that “preserving the title of president of Tatarstan is the right of the people of Tatarstan.”  Akhmetov notes that Putin did not say that this was the right of the Russian Duma.

            Given Russia’s current economic crisis, the editor of “Zvezda Povolzhya” continues, Moscow would be extremely foolish to talk about changing this title or taking power away from the non-Russian republics. Doing so would only destabilize the situation, something that neither Moscow nor the country can afford.

            In his lead article, Akhmetov makes one other noteworthy observation. He says that all the talk about the restoration of the monarchy in Russia is extremely dangerous because it could lead in Russia to “the restoration of the system of autocracy” and that in turn would involve the destruction of the non-Russian republics.

            Some may think otherwise, the editor acknowledges, but they should remember that, “as they have said in Russia,” they may “want better” but it would likely turn out “like always.”

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