Monday, July 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: But for the August Coup, Tatarstan Would Have Gained Independence in 1991, Akhmetov Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 15 – Those in Moscow who are talking about amalgamating Tatarstan into some larger and predominantly Russian region should remember that had it not been for the August 1991 coup, Tatarstan would have become a union republic and then by the end of that year an independent country, according to the editor of “Zvezda Povolzhya.”

            In an article in the current issue of that independent weekly, its editor, Rashit Akhmetov points out that it was only an accident of timing that Tatarstan did not become a union republic within the USSR in August 1991 and then, when that country subsequently disintegrated, a fully independent country (

            But now the people of Tatarstan have matured and because the Russian Federation has entered into a new “time of troubles,” the republic is in a position to renew its quest for a free and  democratic future, especially if Moscow continues to try  to impose its own imperial rule over the Middle Volga.

            Because of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s struggles with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, “Tatarstan already for approximately a year [before the coup] had conducted itself as a union republic,” Akhmetov says.  Indeed, it even formed “a republic committee of the CPSU” like those union republics had.

            Gumer Usmanov, the CPSU Central Committee secretary responsible for nationality policy at that time, worked to elevate the status of Tatarstan from an ASSR to an SSR, and Mintimir Shaymiyev, the head of Tatarstan, made it clear that his republic would only sign a new union treaty as a union republic.

            Gorbachev agreed with the idea that Tatarstan had not been given sufficient authority and was prepared to elevate it to the status of a union republic “at the end of August 1991,” the editor says. “Had there not been the coup, Tatarstan de jure would have become a union republic and then in the course of a year it undoubtedly would have become an independent state.”
            But that event played an evil trick on the Tatars and now their efforts to “have their own state” are denounced as “separatism, as something destructive” when in fact they simply reflect the fact that the Tatars have “matured” and are ready to have their own country, especially since being an enclave in the information age is no obstacle to that step.

            That Tatars are Muslims and Russians Orthodox only adds to the desire of the former to establish an independent state, Akhmetov continues. If the Catalonians in Spain were Muslims, and if Madrid talked about “’the Catalonian yoke,’” the Catalonians would declare independence in “24 seconds” and would be instantly recognized internationally.

            But many Tatars continue to put up with this and many Russians continue to believe that it is their right to insist that the Tatars do so, despite the provisions of the Russian Constitution which calls for the equality of nations, provisions that as Akhmetov notes are rarely implemented in life.

            Moscow doesn’t allow more than a few non-Slavs to become senior officers in the military, and it doesn’t draft people from the North Caucasus. But it still extracts enormous resources from Tatarstan and other non-Russian republics to spend as Moscow sees fit and without any consultation.

            Just now, for example, Moscow is spending billions on “the winter Olympics in the subtropics,” but it claims that it cannot find money for pensions even for people whose republics are sending more money to the center than they can ever hope to get back.  This situation “cannot last for long.”

            If one looks at the situation objectively, the Kazan editor says, “it is not the regions which are separating themselves from Moscow; it is Moscow which is separating in its luxury from the regions.  Over the course of the next two or three years, a regionalist movement will arise in Russia, and most likely of all this will end with a shift of the capital to Novosibirsk or Samara.”

            What is necessary in this situation, Akhmetov continues, is the formation of a Confederalist Party because “the contradictions and disproportions in Russia have gone so far that the dialectical magnet is inevitably shifting from hyper-centralization to a system of hyper-regionalization and a hyper-federation.”

            It is Moscow’s current “hyper-centralism” which is “the chief danger for Russia today,” Akhmetov insists; it is Moscow’s policies which are leading the country to collapse and disintegration. “But in Moscow people are so drunk on power that they literally do not see that they are sitting adopt a volcano.”

            Moscow officials believe that they can crush any revolt and that any compromise is a display of weakness, the independent-minded editor writes.  But in fact, the unwillingness to work with people, to find common ground is a display of real weakness and “plays into the hands of the radicals alone.”

The people of Tatarstan need to be ready for the new time of troubles. They need to make decisions that will minimize the negative consequences of that for themselves and for others.  And according to Akhmetov, it will be people now in their 40s who must devote themselves to a discussion “about the future free and democratic Tatarstan.”

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