Friday, September 22, 2017

Has the Tatarstan President Finally Become ‘Putin’s Foot Soldier’?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Moscow has challenged Tatarstan in two serious ways in the past quarter: it has not extended the power-sharing agreement that Kazan saw as the basis of relations between Tatarstan and Russia, and it has insisted that the study of Russian be compulsory but that the study of non-Russian languages like Tatar completely voluntary.

            There have been numerous commentaries on both sides of these two controversies. But a speech on the state of the republic yesterday by President Rustam Minnikhanov provides the clearest indication yet of how Kazan plans to behave in the future, deferential to Moscow but perhaps not as subservient as the Kremlin would like.

            In a discussion of the speech, Natalya Goloburdova and Elena Chernobrovkina of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta suggest that the speech shows the Tatarstan president has become “Putin’s foot soldier.” But if that is so, it does not appear that he will be one who doesn’t question and challenge his commander (

            Unlike in his earlier addresses where he spoke almost exclusively about economics, Minnikhanov this time focused on politics.  He reminded his audience that there are growing risks in the world and that these “dictate the need for the all-possible strengthening of the Russian Federation as the common home of the many peoples of our country.”

            “We are integrated in Russian statehood over many centuries. There is a complete understanding that only a strong Russian can serve as a guarantor of the successful development of our republic and of all Tatars wherever they live.” But then he added “life itself constantly shows that strong regions made for a strong Russia.”

            Minnikhanov then focused on the two issues most riling Tatarstan now: the non-extension of the power-sharing agreement and preference for Russian language instruction at the possible expense of the requirement for study or at a minimum the reduction in the amount of non-Russian language instruction.

            As for the former, the Tatarstan president said: “For about a quarter of a century, the content of our relations with the federal center was defined by agreements on the delimitation of authority …. But in present-day conditions, the leading factor is not so much the form of relations of the republic and the federal center than their content.”

            In short, there is not going to be an extension of the power-sharing accord, and Kazan is not going to press Moscow on that issue, the two journalists say. But there are going to be fights about Kazan’s powers that may address many of the things that earlier power-sharing accords had defined. 

            And as for the latter, Minnikhanov again straddled the issue. On the one hand, he said that “it is necessary to place the accent on security the level of knowledge and mastery of the Russian language,” but on the other, “there is a need to improve the methods of teaching Tatar as the state language of the Republic of Tatarstan.”

            Among the steps he mentioned with regard to Tatar was a call for the restoration of a national pedagogical institute, apparently an indication that Minnikhanov plans to have a Tatar language teacher training institute soon.

            Summing up, the two journalists say, “Minnikhanov really spoke as a politician” rather than as an economic functionary,” thus recapitulating the course that his predecessor Mintimir Shaymiyev did 30 years ago and becoming “a real politician” who can deal with other politicians including those in Moscow.

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