Sunday, July 19, 2020

Putin’s Constitutional Changes Open Rather than Close Debates in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – Vladimir Putin pushed through the constitutional amendments to close off debates about the future, but his action is having exactly the opposite effect in the non-Russian republics where officials are planning to modify their constitutions and activists are making proposals certain to exacerbate tensions between them and the Kremlin.

            That is already the case in Tatarstan where a depuity has proposed inserting language in the republic constitution about the Tatars as “the state-forming nation” and about the Tatar language as the national one, but it is unclear just how far other republics will go in this direction, commentators say (

            Some like Abbas Gallyamov argue that this will remain a “Kazan” problem at least for a time, but others suggest that what is happening in Tatarstan already is finding an echo elsewhere and that, if the center continues to weaken, the response in the republics will only grow, with ever more of them picking up on what is being said and done in Tatarstan.

            What is happening in the largest non-Russian republic in the country is suggestive of what may happen elsewhere. Many ethnic Russians there are opposed to the constitutional changes that some politicians are proposing while Tatar activists are coming out in support, deepening rather than ending the divides that have existed for some time.

            Ravil Sharafiyev, a Tatar actor, says he supports the nationalizing changes in the Tatar constitution deputies are proposing because “Tatarstan must have its own status.” He says he didn’t support Putin’s changes which elevated the status of Russians and Russia and believes that Tatarstan must take the lead lest non-Russians be “liquidated.”

            “Like flowers in a field,” the actor continues, “each people in the world must exist and speak its own language, develop it, and have education in this language.” Those who work against that can expect to generate opposition. 

            But some in other republics feel that proposals to elevate Tatars and the Tatar language in their republic by mirror imaging what Moscow has done are simply creating more problems. Nikolay Udoratin, a Komi activist, says he doesn’t want to go down that route. What the Tatars want to do is “good, but then how are you different from Putin?”

            “I cannot speak for all,” he continues, “but I am certain that in Komi, such an initiative won’t pass, all the more so as the Komis form only30 percent of the population.”  But Erzyan elder Syres Boyaen disagrees as far as Mordvinia is concerned, even though there the situation is different than in Tatarstan.

             Mordvinia is not a nation state, unlike Tatarstan. There, he points out, “the Erzyan do not have their own republic … The key question for both the Erzyan and the Tatars is freedom and sovereignty. Otherwise, any articles of the constitutions of the republics will be merely empty declarations.”

            That almost certainly is what Putin would prefer, but the Kremlin leader’s policies have leading ever more people to question such an arrangement. 

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