Thursday, March 1, 2018

Failure to Extend Power-Sharing Accord between Moscow and Kazan ‘a Mistake,’ Shakhrai Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 1 – Moscow’s unwillingness to extend the power-sharing accord between the center and Kazan was a serious mistake because the accord was absolute consisten with the Russian Constitution, had “saved” both sides from disaster in the 1990s, and was not doing any harm now, according to Sergey Shakhray, a co-author of the 1993 Constitution.

            The Russian legal specialist and commentator says that the 1994 accord “saved Tatarstan and Russia from a serious conflict” and “in its current form, it wasn’t interfering with either.” Now, by not extending it, Moscow has made it into “an apple of discord” for the future (

            Part 3 of Article 11 of the Constitution anticipates the conclusion of such power-sharing agreements, he says, agreements which “help at one and the same time to secure state-wide stability and the dynamic development of federative relations.”  Those who say the accord lacks a constitutional basis should read that section of the basic law.

            Moscow and Kazan needed such an agreement in the 1990s, Shakhrai continues, because the Republic of Tatarstan did not conduct a referendum on the 1993 Constitution or participate in elections to the Federal Assembly. After the accord was signed, that was remedies and Tatarstan had its representatives in both houses of the federal parliament. 

            “According to international law and constitutional law,” he says, “conducting elections on the territory of a republic to a federal parliament according to rules established by federal legislation is de facto and de jure a recognition of countrywide sovereignty and the federal Constitution.”

            The accord thus “saved both Russia and Tatarstan.” Under wise leadership, Tatarstan was able to develop and become a model for others. “Now, at the federal level, they are making use of your experience and Tatarstan is even exporting its officials to Moscow and to other regions of the country.”

            Shakhrai says that in his opinion, Moscow did not extend the accord out of a fear of separatism but rather because “aa new generation of the bureaucracy already doesn’t understand as people say the background of events, does not see the situation in a complex way and in terms of all the potential risks.” 

            By failing to extend the accord, Moscow has made it a continuing irritant and thus a problem not only for Tatarstan but for Russia as a whole.

            Another reason that the power-sharing accord was so important, the constitutional drafter says, is that “mentally Rusisa is still a unitary country. Especially the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats.” For a very long time already, they have been “’vertical’ people in their souls.”  And there is an additional reason as well.

            “Federalism is not simply a means of delimiting authority between the center and the regions,” Shakhrai says.  “It is above all a philosophy and a worldview at the basis of which lies an understanding of the importance of diversity, respect for the opinions of others and a beivein the value of dialogue among equals.”

            “If there is no such understanding,” he says, “then the most perfect federation becomes a formality.”

            Shakhrai there have been “at a minimum” three attempts in Russia to move “from formal to genune federalism: under Aleksandr I in the first quarter of the 19th century, under the Soviets in the first quarter of the 20th, and “at the beginning of the 1990s.”  Those three experiences provide an important lesson.

            The Russian state begins to develop federalism as soon as the treasury of the central government runs out.  That is a bit overstated, Shakhrai says, but not be much.  “The regions thus are given freedom together with responsibikity for all the problems in the localities.”

            “It would be good to live to a time when freedom will be given not because of difficulties with the federal budget but because federalism is a more effective kind of administration, one that allows for real competition and stimulates development,” the constitutional author continues.

            “From a single center one simply must not run an enormous country by a single hand,” he says; and htat means that “while there are problems with finances as a result of sanctions and the price of oil, federalism has some not bad chances to become stronger,” he concudes.

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