Staunton, Feb. 6 – Moscow has succeeded in forcing Tatarstan to give up the title of president for its leader, but it has not been successful in getting the Middle Volga republic to call its leader a “head” as most other federal subjects have been forced to do. Instead, Tatar officials and the Tatar population remain committed to using the Arabic term “rais” instead.
The websites and documents of the head of Tatarstan and his administration have all been changed indicating that they are headed by a “rais” rather than a president; and ethnic minorities have been encouraged to use their native language equivalents of the Tatar “rais” when speaking about him.
According to Russian political scientist Konstantin Kalachev, this reflects the continuing struggle of Tatarstan against being reduced to the status of an ordinary oblast or kray and is one that Tatarstan has both Russian law and even Russian practice under Vladimir Putin on its side (business-gazeta.ru/article/582589).
On the one hand, the law that required Tatarstan to change the title of its top official specifies only that he or she can’t be called “president.” Other terms are acceptable, including quite clearly “rais,” all the more so since as recently as 2016, Putin himself said that Tatars had the right to make a choice on this point.
And on the other hand, both Moscow and St. Petersburg call the top officials in their cities mayors even though they are federal subjects. As a Tatar commentator pointed out, they are clearly special federal subjects just as Tatarstan is a special federal subject as well. From his perspective, the Tatars came out of the recent struggle better than some expected.
At present, few expect Moscow will launch a campaign against the title “rais” at least in the near future, although at some point that is not to be excluded because Moscow officials and Moscow outlets are already referring to the now former “president” of Tatarstan as “head,” even though almost no one in that republic is doing so.
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