Staunton, August 30 – Twenty-five years ago today, the Supreme Soviet of the Tatar Soviet Socialist Republic – it had already dispensed with the hated word “autonomous” – voted unanimously with only one abstention for a Declaration of State Sovereignty of Tatarstan, a declaration that it has never disavowed, Rashit Akhmetov says.
And thus despite all the moves against the republic taken by Boris Yeltsin and even more by Vladimir Putin, that declaration, the editor of Zvezda Povolzhya argues, continues to provide the basis of hope for the future (“25 let,” Zvezda Povolzhya, no. 31 (759), August 27-September 2, 2015, p. 1).
What is perhaps more intriguing, even some who oppose the Tatarstan project are saying on this anniversary that what Tatarstan did a generation ago and what is leaders and people continue to do may become the basis for the transformation not just of that Middle Volga republic but of the Russian Federation as a whole.
In his lead article, Akhmetov says that the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty was “a turning point in the history of the republic” because it asserted both Tatarstan’s ownership of its natural resources and the supremacy of Tatarstan laws over Moscow’s.
He acknowledges that Tatarstan was able to do this because it successfully exploited the tensions between Boris Yeltsin who wanted to take the RSFSR out from under Soviet control and Mikhail Gorbachev who wanted to weaken Yeltsin by promoting the so-called “parade of sovereignties” within the Russian republic.
Twenty-five years later, many even in Tatarstan treat this event as of only historical interest. After all, they say, Russia’s Constitutional Court has declared it null and void, and Moscow especially under Putin has gutted most of its key provisions. But that is a mistake, Akhmetov says, because the Declaration laid the groundwork for Tatarstan’s special status.
Not only did the Russian Constitutional Court not exist when Tatarstan adopted the declaration, something that makes its ruling problematic, the Kazan editor says; but “Tatarstan did not sign the Federative Treaty with Russia,” as did all other republics except Chechnya, but only an agreement on the delimitation of powers and responsibilities.
Moreover, in 1992, the people of Tatarstan in a referendum “confirmed the status of the declaration,” and most important, “the Parliament of Tatarstan up do now has no disavowed the Declaration of Sovereignty,” even though it has removed the word from the republic’s constitution under pressure from Moscow.
As long as Yeltsin was Russian president, the leaders of Tatarstan as a result of their pragmatic approach were able to maintain most of the provisions of the 1990 Declaration. But then Putin came to power and “Tatarstan sovereignty ended,” with the republic reduced from what had been virtually “confederal” relations with Moscow to those of “an autonomy.”
The Kremlin leader continues to chip away at what the Tatars have done, most recently by launching a campaign suggesting that the Tatarstan leadership is fundamentally corrupt, a charge Moscow can make only by distorting the facts, claiming for instance that the number of slot machines in Tatarstan is greater than the total number in the Russian Federation.
According to Akhmetov, Tatars can see through this and recognize that what is going on is the setting of the stage for a raider attack on Tatneft by Putin’s Rosneft like the one Moscow carried out in Bashkortostan. And they can give “an effective rebuff” to this by voting overwhelmingly for the current president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov.
That the Tatar editor should consider the 1990 Declaration important is no surprise, but what is striking is that some who can hardly be called friends of that Middle Volga republic see Tatarstan’s continuing ability to take a position at odds with the center as a possible trigger of a new round of “perestroika’ in the Russian Federation.
In a commentary on Forum-MSK.org, left-wing commentator Sergey Gupalo suggests it would be a mistake to ignore what stands behind Tatar celebrations of this anniversary because despite everything Putin has done, Tatarstan alone retains the office of president, something even Chechnya hasn’t been able to do (forum-msk.org/material/region/10969431.html).
Tatarstan’s ability to maintain itself in this way reflects Kazan’s development of economic and political ties to foreign countries; and those ties, the communist commentator says, help to explain why one feels “more than anywhere else the breathe of an approaching new perestroika,” one that may be liberal or otherwise depending on events.
Among the intelligentsia in Tatarstan, he says, one feels the same spirit that one felt at the end of Soviet times, the view that “’one can’t continue to live this way anymore.’” Gupalo writes that he experienced that in the years before 1991 in Ukraine; now, he feels the same thing in Tatarstan.
And he says that on the basis of those experiences, he “sees direct parallels between the crisis of the late USSR and the crisis of present-day Russian Federation,” even though no specific actions have yet been taken in Tatarstan. But the shift in attitudes there like the shift in attitudes in Ukraine 25 years ago suggests that they will be forthcoming.