Baku, April 1 – Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev has dismissed Rafael Khakimov, a leading supporter of genuine federalism and moderate Islam, an action that Moscow apparently insisted upon possibly as the price of Shaimiyev’s remaining in office and one that suggests a further reduction in Kazan’s own freedom of action.
On Friday, Tatar news agencies reported laconically that Khakimov, who has served as political advisor to Shaimiyev since 1991, was leaving that position “at his own request,” but both the media there and in Moscow as well as Khakimov himself quickly made it clear that he did not leave voluntarily but was fired.
Because Khakimov has played such a major role in Kazan for so long, because his departure in this way was -- in the words of Vechernyaya Kazan’ -- so “unbelievable,” and because of its implications not only for Kazan but for the future of federalism in the Russian Federation, how and why his departure was engineered deserves close attention.
(For a biographic sketch and a bibliography of Khakimov’s most important works, including many which he has prepared in cooperation with leading Western scholars, on federalism, moderate Islam, and Tatarstan’s place in the world, see http://www.tataroved.ru/institut/aup/direktor/).
The first clear indication that Khakimov’s departure was anything but voluntary – he is 61, heads the Kazan Institute of History, and sometimes has told friends he would like to retire – came from the Russian Rosbalt.ru news agency with which Khakimov has had close relations (http://www.rosbalt.ru/2008/03/28/469534.html).
The same day Khakimov’s “voluntary” exit was announced in Kazan, Rosbalt reported that Shaimiyev had told his longtime aide to resign three days earlier immediately after the Tatarstan president’s return from Moscow. And citing unnamed but“well-informed sources,” it added that Moscow had told Shaimiyev to get rid of him.
Rosbalt noted that Khakimov was “a leader of the national movement during perestroika, an ideologue of Tatarstan sovereignty within the Russian Federation, a major force behind the first and second [sovereignty delimitation accords] … and the author of Who are You, Tatar? and Where is Our Mecca? (A Manifesto of EuroIslam).
But, the news agency continued, clearly in defense of Khakimov that has not been the case that the Kazan historian wanted independence for Tatarstan and “hated everything Russian” – although it said that his public statements often were provocatory and left no one indifferent.
The next day, Vechernyaya Kazan’ provided more details. In an article entitled “Look Who Has Left,” it said Khakimov, expected to remain until Shaimiyev left, had confirmed that the Tatarstan president had fired him after coming back from Moscow (www.evening-kazan.ru/article.asp?from=number&num_dt=29.03.2008&id=28461).
Khakimov told the paper that “he does not know what (or who) served as the cause or gave the immediate push” for his departure. Asked what he would do now, the Tatar historian said that Shaimiyev was allowing him to remain as head of the Institute of History but that he would need more work.
The salary at the institute by itself, he said, would not pay for his expenses, and consequently, he would need another job. One possibility, he indicated, was to open a restaurant – Khakimov is renowned as a cook – but more seriously, he indicated he would go to Moscow to speak with “opposition figures.”
Not, he hastened to add, those who oppose the Tatarstan president but rather – at least implicitly -- those who oppose the current Russian leadership. And asked who would likely succeed him, Khakimov pointed to Aleksandr Terent’yev, an ethnic Russian who currently serves as Shaimiyev’s foreign policy advisor.
Russian nationalist commentators in Moscow have provided another part of the story. Clearly pleased with Moscow’s decision to force Shaimiyev to fire Khakimov, they suggested that the proximate cause was the Kazan historian’s recent call for Moscow to reverse itself and recognize Kosovo (http://www.rusk.ru/st.php?idar=105169).
That “scandalous” idea, they said, was just the latest example of his inappropriate behavior, pointing to his October 2002 suggestion that Moscow should negotiate with rather than simply try to destroy the Chechens who took hostages at the Nordost theater (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=213265).
It is entirely possible that someone in Moscow decided that Khakimov had to go because of his Kosovo statement, but that is clearly not the whole story. In the past, Shaimiyev has defended his aide against complaints from Moscow commentators and the Russian leadership. This time, he did not or perhaps could not.
One explanation may be that the Kremlin indicated that Shaimiyev could remain as president of Tatarstan only if he showed his “loyalty” to the center by getting rid of Khakimov. Another may be that the forces in the Russian capital against any manifestation of independent thought or action in the regions are growing.
Indeed, it may be that the Kazan leadership now finds itself in a situation resembling that of dissidents in the Church of England, where it has long been argued that one can think differently or act differently but that one cannot do both at the same time and remain in good standing.
Kazan continues to act differently: Last week it signed an agreement with Iran on cooperating in the media (http://prav.tatar.ru/rus/index.htm/news/15372.htm). But with Khakimov’s departure, it will certainly speak differently both less openly and officially than it has done in the past.
But even if that proves to be the case, it is certain that the world has not heard the last of Rafael Khakimov, who can be counted upon to speak out on critical issues in the future and who will undoubtedly find a way to provide a more detailed explanation of what has taken place – without in the meantime being forced to open his own restaurant.
UPDATE for April 2 – For two Russian appreciations of Khakimov and his “soft separatism” and the ways in which his departure will affect not only Tatarstan but the Russian Federation as a whole, see www.apn.ru/opinions/article19618.htm and www.apn.ru/opinions/article19617.htm.
UPDATE for April 16 – Valiulla Yakubov, the deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan whose own position has been challenged by pro-Moscow groups, told Islam.ru last week that the forced retirement of Rafael Khakimov was the product of “internal Russian political processes” rather than the latter’s support for EuroIslam. After Khakimov oversaw the drafting of the second power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Kazan, he rendered his own position more or less meaningless, and Yakubov suggested that Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev might decide to eliminate the slot Khakimov had occupied. (http://www.islam.ru/rus/2008-04-07/).