Monday, December 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan and Bashkortostan Resist Dropping Presidential Title

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 16 – Kremlin official have told Russia’s federal subjects that Vladimir Putin’s comments about the reform of local administration mean that they must bring their titles into line with Moscow’s requirement and stop calling their top officials “presidents,” but both Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are resisting, albeit in different ways.

            An article in today’s “Izvestiya” reports that a source “close to the Kremlin” says that eliminating the office of president at the level of the non-Russian republics is required so that the country will have only one president – Vladimir Putin – and his power vertical will be put in final order (

            Three years ago, at Putin’s insistence, the Duma passed a law requiring this step.  Since that time, Chechnya, Buryatia, Mari El, Udmurdia, Chuvashia, Sakha, Adygeya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia have fallen into line.  Daghestan will drop the title “president” at the beginning of January.

            But two Middle Volga republics, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, have resisted.  Tatarstan’s current president Rustam Minnikhanov says that his republic is not doing anything about the title at this time.  And former Tatarstan president Mintimir Shaymiyev has openly campaigned against dropping the republic presidency.

            According to Rostislav Turovsky, a researcher at the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, Shaymiyev has argued that such a step could undermine the current head of the republic who is viewed by many Bashkirs as too ready to do Moscow’s bidding and that any pressure by Moscow to do so could “backfire” and “destabilize” the situation.

            Bashkortostan’s President Rustem Khamitov, for his part, says that he will go along with the federal law and republic legislation which require the elimination of the title “president” at the republic level before 2015. But he does not see any immediate urgency: “the deadline is coming and we are carrying out our usual work.”

                At the same time, Khamitov is seeking to have his new title reflect Bashkir linguistic traditions.  One possibility experts in Ufa are now considering is “khakim” or elder.  Khamitov says there is no requirement that the head of a republic be called “a head” and adds that he “will accept any variant [from those] who know how to correctly translate” the title.

            Turovsky says that the retitling of the republic heads is required “so that there not be any doubt in the domination of the federal center.”  “Izvestiya” entitles its article “a last warning is given to the presidents of the republics.”  But it is not clear just what Moscow’s next move will be – or how Kazan and Ufa will react.

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