Staunton, January 18 – After Vladimir Putin became president, he insisted that the constitutions of the non-Russian republics be brought into line with the Russian one. Tatarstan was among those which resisted and which succeeded in maintaining many of the provisions which the Kremlin leader did not like, including references to the federative treaty of the 1990s.
Now, Moscow is amending its constitution and the question naturally arises what impact that will have on the basic laws of the republics. Rafael Khakimov says whatever Russia does with its constitution, “Russia will not change,” and that Tatarstan will continue to develop and move forward (azatliq.org/a/30254053.html in Tatar; idelreal.org/a/30259693.html in Russian).
The prominent Tatar historian and former political advisor to Mintimir Shaymiyev tells Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service that “after declaring the sovereignty of Tatarstan, we had to strengthen this by legislation. Moscow did not especially like this.” But at that time, Moscow had only an old constitution and not the one from 1993.
“Laws in Russia have their own characteristics, but life proceeds in its own too. Therefore, one should not be surprised” that Moscow wants one thing but that others, including Tatarstan, are able to insist on their own, as Kazan has with its continuing reference to the federative treaty Moscow has annulled. But Khakimov says those references must be retained.
When the Kremlin tried to make all the republics conform to its arrangements, he continues, “the main question was how we saw relations with the center. Moscow wrote its constitution; it wanted to have everything conform to a single arrangement. It, of course, didn’t like that we were doing our own thing.”
At that time, Kazan resisted, but not by the protest demonstrations some expected but rather in talks. These were “not easy.” But it must be remembered that all the other republics had backed down, and Tatarstan “remained alone.” Its ability to resist was thus limited, the Kazan historian and political advisor says.
Khakimov says that it remains to be seen how Moscow will act after it changes its constitution. But regardless of what is written there, “Russia will not change.” And as a result, “Tatarstan all the same will continue to develop and move forward.” It may even be able to achieve more than many expect.
Shaymiyev’s proposal for tri-lingual schools is a way to defend Tatarstan against Russianization, Khakimov says. And there are ways for Tatarstan to do more in combination with the two to three million Tatars living outside the republic and with those Tatars at risk of deportation to China. They should be given residence permits and allowed to remain.
It is easy but wrong to focus exclusively on the shortcomings of Tatarstan’s basic law and policies. But “let’s look at the positive side. Tatarstan still exists. The republic lives. Its Constitution operates. We today are involved in political circumstances. There are limits and we can’t jump higher. Tatarstan exists in Russia’s political field and is forced to play its games.”
There is a reason people say that “politics is the art of the possible.”
At present, “we can be proud that there is a Republic of Tatarstan and that it has its own Constitution,” Khakimov concludes. Yes, it has been reduced and even shredded, but the Constitution still exists and in some areas, we still can operate on its basis.” That is no small thing now or for the future.