Staunton, October 11 – Thirty years ago today, on October 11, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Bashkir ASSR adopted its declaration of state sovereignty, an act that set the stage for the flourishing of the republic in the 1990s, Ruslan Gabbasov says. But since then, it has lost all that it gained and more and now is decaying.
Its life, the leader of the now-banned Bashkort nationalist movement says, “can be compared with that of a sportsman who at the peak of his career turns to drugs, quickly falls under their influence, loses all his health, and now is ending his life as a sick and hopeless man” (idelreal.org/a/30884087.html).
The sovereignty declaration led to a bilateral agreement with Moscow, the adoption of a republic constitution which transferred ownership of the economy and natural resources of the land to its people, and the establishment of Bashkir as the state language, Gabbasov says, and gave hope that Bashkortostan would truly have a bright future.
But almost immediately, things began to go wrong, with Moscow going back on its word and the republic leadership deferring to the center because it was dependent on the Kremlin for subsidies after it lost control of its economy. Unlike the leaders of Tatarstan and Chechnya, Bashkortostan’s Murtaza Rakhimov yielded some of what the Bashkirs had gained.
Nonetheless, Gabbasov continues, in the 1990s, “the republic flourished, paved roads and gas lines were extended into rural areas, collective farms and state farms were maintained which provided work for rural people and limited outmigration, and the republic government continued to earn money from their own oil and gas fields.
But when Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, he says, Ufa lost ever more of its powers and was transformed from a donor region to one forced to rely on handouts from the center. As a result of that, Moscow was able to dictate its will to the Bashkirs and it did so with ever less ceremony.
Given popular anger at this, Rakhimov became ever more authoritarian in order to maintain control and please Moscow at the same time. He still allowed himself on occasion the possibility of criticizing the center and defending the republic, but his days were numbered and in 2010, he was forced out, replaced by an outsider Rustem Khamitov.
The main task of the new head of the republic – he was no longer a president – was to put an end to all the positive achievements of the Rakhimov era. Khamitov tried to present himself as a liberal and even a nationalist, but significantly, “he never allowed himself to criticize Kremlin decisions and did everything Moscow told him to.”
Almost the only thing he did defend was Bashkir control of the soda mountains; but the explanation may be that he wanted to profit from them himself. He certainly didn’t do that because that is what the people wanted. As a result of that move, Gabbasov says, Khamitov was replaced by Radiy Khabirov who is even more willing to do what Moscow wants.
Not only has he never raised the question of federalism, but he has overseen the sentencing of federalist activist Ayrat Dilmukhametov to nine years in prison and gone along with banning the Bashkort organization for its opposition to the centralist and authoritarian Putin regime.
In response to this republic retreat, he continues, “the demand for real federalism is increasingly sounding not from the mouths of scholars or political scientists but from those of the simple people,” a trend that recapitulates what happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s and one that gives hope for the future.
“Events in Ingushetia, Khabarovsk, Shiyes, and Kushtau have shown that when federalism remains only on paper and in reality the country ever more is essentially a unitary state, the demand for federalist relations will come precisely from below, from the population itself.” That is what is happening in Bashkortostan.
When people see Moscow ignoring or trampling upon their lawful interests, he concludes, “they ever more frequently begin to choose those forms of protest which will return us again to the 1990s. And then it will be possible to hear again something like ‘take as much authority as you can swallow.’”