Friday, February 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Site Attacks Tatarstan Aide’s Defense of Self-Determination

Paul Goble

Baku, February 29 – A Russian Orthodox site has attacked the political advisor of the president of Tatarstan for defending the right of nations to self-determination, urging Moscow to recognize Kosovo as soon as possible, and suggesting he personally is prepared to defend his republic’s rights with arms in his hands if Moscow violates them.
On the Russkaya Liniya website today, nationalist commentator Ivan Smirnov attacks Rafail’ Khakimov, the political advisor to the Tatarstan president and head of the Kazan Institute of History, for the contents of an interview he gave to Rosbalt-Povol’zhe’s Yana Amelina ten days ago (
In that interview, which bore the title “The Rights of Peoples are More Important than the Rights of States,” Khakimov argued that Moscow “must recognize Kosovo and the sooner the better” because “the Serbs, having liquidated Kosovo’s autonomy,” had lost the right to retain it (
If Kosovo is recognized and then “left in peace,” Khakimov continued, “the Serbs living there will survive in a quite normal fashion.” And no one should regret any problems they do have because, the Kazan political advisor says, “they themselves created this situation.”
Asked whether he saw Kosovo as a precedent for others, Khakimov indicated that he did. On the basis of international law, he argued, the status of “this or that territory” and whether it remains within another larger one, should be determined by the people living on it. “One ought not to force people to do what they do not want to do.”
Unfortunately, he continued, “in recent times, the role of the United Nations has significantly declined precisely because [it] constantly stands up for states and not for peoples. Many problems would disappear,” Khakimov said, “if the UN changed from a bureaucratic defense of existing states to the defense of the rights of peoples.”
Asked about the existence of “double standards” in this area, Khakimov acknowledged that they are nothing new and will continue as far into the future as anyone can see. And he said that maintaining the territorial integrity of states is all well and good as long as their governments do not oppress the people living under them.
But the outspoken Kazan historian continued, “international law says that if a people is oppressed, it has the right to defend itself. And by the way,” he added, “this corresponds with the definition of the small jihad [in Islam] which allows for resistance when someone is attacking you.”
In the 1990s, Tatarstan pursued negotiations with Moscow to defend its rights as the homeland of the Tatars, he noted, within the framework of the Hague Initiative and drawing on the expertise of Harvard’s Kennedy School not because Tatars are afraid to fight but because they believe negotiations are the best way to achieve their ends.
After great efforts at multiple levels, Khakimov said, Kazan had found “a common language with the federal center,” something he said that was “better than war.” But if Moscow should violate the rights of Tatars, he continued, he and others were prepared to employ whatever tools might be needed to defend what they have.
“Although I am more used to using a computer [to advance my ideas and the cause of the Tatar nation and Tatarstan],” Khakimov concluded, “if necessary, I too can take automatic weapon into my hands. But why should that be necessary?”
Not surprisingly, in his attack on Khakimov today, “Russkaya Liniya’s” Smirnov puts the most extreme interpretation on everything the Kazan advisor said, rejects all of it, and argues that Khakimov by so doing has “openly discredited his immediate boss, Mintimir Shaimiyev.”
In fact, Smirnov continues, it may very well be that Khakimov and Shaimiyev have arranged things so that the first says openly what the latter cannot. If that is the case -- and the Russian commentator says “certain Kazan political scientists” think so -- that makes the situation even more appalling.
And Smirnov argues neither the advisor nor his president has the right to speak for “the millions of Tatars” of the Russian Federation who certainly reject any notions of “secession” based on “the right of nations to self-determination,” Islamic ideas, or anything else.
In fact, however, Khakimov’s words are far less radical than Smirnov imagines and less atypical of Tatar thinking than he suggests. In fact, last week, a group of Tatar nationalists sent a telegram to Kosovo’s prime minister congratulating him on having led his people to full independence (

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