Thursday, January 14, 2016

Toward a New ‘Parade of Sovereignties’ – Chuvash Want ‘State’ Back in Republic Constitution

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 14 – The Chuvash Ireklekh Society for National-Cultural Rebirth has appealed to speaker of the republic’s parliament to restore the word “state” as a description of the republic and to specify that it has the right to self-determination, a call that is reminiscent of the arguments of national movements in the USSR’s union republics at the end of Soviet times.

            The appeal, released yesterday, says the group “starts from the fact that the Chuvash Republic is a state in the Russian Federation,” reflecting  “the realization of the Chuvash nation and the people of Chuvasia their inalienable to right to self-determination and independently realized government power on their territory” ( and

            While the Ireklekh appeal says that all this is “in correspondence with the constitution of the Russian Federation and the Constitution of the Chuvash Republic,” many will see that as window dressing given that it further asserts that “the removal of the word ‘state’ undermines the foundations of the constitutional order of the Chuvash Republic.”

            In support of their argument, the Chuvash activists cite the finding of Russia’s Constitutional Court in 2000. At that time, the Russian court held that “the use of the term ‘republic’ (‘state’) does not mean recognition of the state sovereignty of the subjects of the Russian Federation but ‘only reflects definite characteristics of their constitutional status connected with factors of a historical, national and other character.’”

            Ireklekh points out that of the 21 non-Russian republics currently within the borders of the Russian Federation, 17 declare in their constitutions that they are “democratic legal states.”  Only four do not: the Altay Republic, Khakasia, Kalmykia and Chuvashia.  Chuvashia, the group says, needs to correct its constitution as soon as possible.

            Chuvashia, a republic adjoining Tatarstan in the Middle Volga, has 1.25 million residents of whom two-thirds are members of the titular nationality, which is distinctive in that it is both Christian and Turkic. As such, it has often served as a bridge – in both directions – between Muslim Tatarstan and Christian or pagan republics.

            But there are three reasons why the new Ireklekh declaration is important.  First, its legal argument gives additional and undoubtedly welcome support to Tatarstan in its efforts to retain the title of republic president by suggesting that even Russian courts have accepted such terminological variations in the past.

            Second, this appeal shows that Chuvash activists are trying to work out a way forward between Moscow’s insistence that all Turkic republics break their ties with Ankara, something Chuvashia’s government has done but that Sakha and Tatarstan have not, and the desire of the titular Turkic nationality to promote a Turkic national identity.

            And third, while the events in Tatarstan have received far more attention, this latest move in Chuvashia is an indication the non-Russian and especially Turkic republics in the Russian Federation are far more restive than many in Russia and the West assume and that many of them are positioning themselves for what they perceive as an increasingly weakened Moscow.

            Similar conclusions animated “the parade of sovereignties,” a trend that a generation ago that tore the USSR apart. Given that, it is not unthinkable that at least some non-Russians in republics within the borders of the Russian Federation are making similar calculations now about their future prospects.


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