Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why is Tatarstan Alone in Fight for Federalism? Duma Votes This Week Tell Part of the Story

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – The government of the Republic of Tatarstan, the republic whose titular nationality is the second largest nation inside the current borders of the Russian Federation, has long been viewed as the most committed advocate of federalism against efforts by Vladimir Putin to destroy that in favor of a traditionally Russian unitary state.

            Increasingly, however, Tatarstan has been almost alone in this struggle, prompting articles like Ramazan Alpaut of the IdelReal portal to outline various reasons why this is so ( But perhaps the most important was on display this week in the Russian Duma when it voted on Putin’s language law that Tatars and other non-Russians oppose.

            Given the Kremlin’s complete control over the parliament, it is not surprising that this noxious plan to undermine instruction in the non-Russian languages was approved on first reading by a vote of 373 to three (

            But what was surprising is this: Eleven of the 16 Duma deputies from Tatarstan voted for the Kremlin’s language law. Only one abstained and four did not take part in the voting. But the important statistic is that not a single one of them voted no, despite the overwhelming opposition of their own constituents (

            Those who voted for the measure, of course, sought to explain that they were doing so tactically and hope that there will be major changes in the legislation before the second and third rounds of voting, despite the fact that the powers that be in Moscow have shown themselves unwilling to make any fundamental concessions (

                That argument may convince some, but it will not convince many either in Tatarstan whose people will feel betrayed by their own representatives or by other non-Russians who have looked to Kazan to provide leadership in the fight to defend the rights of the non-Russians. Indeed, it will likely further reduce the influence of Tatarstan among the non-Russians.

            (There is already a backlash in Tatarstan. Tatar-speaking parents are calling for the recall of those deputies who voted for the Kremlin measure (

            If when push comes to shove, Duma deputies from Tatarstan go along with the Kremlin, undoubtedly out of fear from what Putin and his minions might do to them, why, other non-Russians are certain to ask, should they take any risks in opposing the Kremlin in order to defend their own peoples and their rights?

            To the extent that is true, Putin has won a bigger victory in the short term than many are now saying; but in the longer term, it may prove Pyrrhic. That is because the non-Russian nations will see ever more clearly that their supposed “representatives” have gone over to the other side, a situation that may drive some into sullen silence but lead others to radicalization. 

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