Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Puerto Rico was Model for Tatar Constitutional Provisions about Links to Russia, Zhelyeznov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – Boris Zhelyeznov, a Kazan legal specialist, defended his use of the phrase “associated with Russia” against nationalists by pointing out to Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev in 1992 that there are cases of “associated” states around the world, one of which was Puerto Rico, and that Tatarstan could choose the same term and arrangements. 

            Zhelyeznev, an ethnic Russian specialist at Kazan State University, was a participant in the drafting of the 1990 Tatarstan declaration of sovereignty, the August 1991 accord with Moscow, and the 1992 Tatarstan Constitution.  On the 25th anniversary of the last, he shared his memories about those events with Realnoe Vremya (realnoevremya.ru/society/authorities/80563-kak-25-let-nazad-prinimalas-konstituciya-tatarstana).

            In 1992, the legal scholar recalled, he was a member of the experts group that took part in the drafting of Tatarstan’s constitution. Tempers were high in Tatar society, and he even received an anonymous threat: “’Mr. Zhelyeznov,  if in our constitution there isn’t a specific declaration about the sovereignty of the republic, we will send you to paradise.’”

            He said he immediately went to see Mintimir Shaymiyev and pointed out that he “wasn’t even a Tatar” and that this is “a serious threat.” The Tatarstan leader responded: “’Yes, I receive such threats every day.’” To which Zhelyeznov said, “But I don’t have a militia post next to my house. In short, I am leaving the constitutional commission.

            Eventually, as a result of a conversation with Vasily Likhachev, who was then vice president of the republic, Zhelyeznov was talked out of this and continued to work on the draft. Many deputies were categorically against using the word obedinennoye [united]” with regard to Russia because “they considered that we had already left Russia.”

            Debates on that continued to rage, and “on the eve of the last session” of the parliament, Zhelyeznov continued, “Shaymiyev assembled the five scholars from the commission” and asked him, Zhelyeznov, whether there was “such a term as associated membership” in international law.

            The Kazan legal specialist said that yes there is and pointed to Puerto Rico. It is “an associated member of the US, it has close ties and there are two representatives of Puerto Rico in the congress with an advisory vote.”

                The next day, Shaymiyev spoke to the parliament and “proposed writing not ‘united’ but ‘associated state.’ This produced an effect: each understood this word in his own way. Most of the deputies weren’t lawyer; they viewed the word ‘associated’ as opposed to ‘united,’ and as an indication that we were not part of the Russian Federation.”

            “They voted and then went out to drink vodka; all were satisfied,” Zhelyeznev says.

            He made one additional comment about the constitution which remains very relevant to an understanding of federalism in Russia now. “The constitution of Tatarstan served as a kind of  model,” Zhelyeznev said, “I was invited to Bashkortostan where I provided expert comments on their project.”

In addition, he recalled, “representatives of the Republic of Sakha and Tuva came to us to acquaint themselves with our laws.”

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