Staunton, Dec. 15 – Most analysts of federal relations between Moscow and the regions and republics start with the assumption that Tatarstan exercises a disproportionate influence over other federal subjects by virtue of its size – it is the largest non-Russian republic within the Russian Federation in terms of population – and the activism of its leaders.
But that assumption is seldom backed up with the kind of objective confirmation that most would demand for other such claims. Now, however, a case has arisen which shows just how true this assumption is, with a proposal from Kazan rapidly attracting support from other republics.
On Tuesday, the State Council of Tatarstan proposed to the Russian Duma that it amend existing laws to introduce punishments for anyone showing disrespect to the symbols of Russia’s regions and republics (milliard.tatar/news/tatarstan-predlozil-vvesti-nakazaniya-za-oskorblenie-gossimvolov-regionov-2213).
Within 48 hours, the republics of the North Caucasus, Sakha and Komi came out in support of the idea, even though it was criticized by some Russian deputies as likely to increase the size of the bureaucracy needed to enforce such rules (milliard.tatar/news/ideyu-tatarstana-o-nakazanii-za-neuvazenie-k-gossimvolam-regionov-podderzali-drugie-respubliki-2575).
In the coming days, more non-Russian republics and some predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays are likely to line up behind the Tatarstan proposal as well, not only confirming Tatarstan’s special role in the federal system but setting the stage for the kind of center-periphery conflicts in the legislature that were a staple of the 1990s.
If that happens and it is likely, Moscow will have only itself to blame. On the one hand, the center has been obsessive about introducing punishments against those who do not show respect for federal symbols, thus opening the way for the proposal to introduce similar ones for those who don’t show respect for republic and regional ones.
And on the other, the center has stripped the republics and regions of most of their powers but it has not taken their right to legislative initiative away. Tatarstan is exploiting that, and other federal subjects are likely to follow its lead and do the same thing with increasing frequency as well.