Thursday, September 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: After Georgia, Bashkirs Invoke Self-Determination Right against Putin’s Power Vertical

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 4 – Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has led ever more Bashkirs to express their dissatisfaction with the status their republic and their nation now have within the Russian Federation and to invoke the principle of national self-determination as the basis for a solution.
That does not mean that the members of this Turkic Muslim group on the Middle Volga are about to press for independence, although there is some sentiment for that step, but rather that ethnic Bashkirs are convinced that now is the time to regain for themselves some of the rights they lost during the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
And consequently, they are now prepared to challenge the Russian government on those grounds, invoking the right of nations to self-determination both as a means to convince others that their demands should be met and, perhaps equally important, as a threat to Moscow if the central government decides to ignore them.
These are just some of the conclusions suggested by the results of a focus group of the leaders of various Bashkir social organizations conducted by the Network of Ethnological Monitoring and Early Warning in Bashkortostan at the end of August and reported by the news agency yesterday (
The group included representatives of the World Kurultai of Bashkirs, the Union of Bashkir Youth, the Institute of History at the Ufa Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the dean of the history faculty at Bashkir State University, the head of the philosophy department at another Ufa school, and the vice president of the “Gray Wolves” national movement.
In the wake of the events in Georgia, repotted, all members of this group invoked the right of nations to self-determination in their discussion of how to overcome what they view as the current less than satisfactory state of the rights of Bashkirs and the Republic of Bashkortostan.
And collectively, on the basis of that, the members of this focus group made five points. First, they said that with the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they “expect a broadening of the rights of the titular ethnos of Bashkortostan and an increase in both the actual and formal status of this subject of the Federation.”
Second, they said that in the wake of what Moscow has done in Georgia, “the president of Bashkortostan can be only a Bashkir by nationality, who knows the Bashkir language,” an arrangement they said that would restore earlier practice and one that must be fixed in law so that it will not be changed again.
Third, they insisted that “it is necessary to return the norm and practice of general elections of the head of a subject of the Russian Federation,” something that Vladimir Putin did away with but an arrangement that is absolutely essential for nations within Russia under the terms of the right of nations to self-determination.
Fourth, the participants in this focus group said that the fiscal policies of the Russian Federation must be changed so that donor regions like Bashkortostan can keep more of what they have been paying in taxes rather than having to hand it over to the central government for its uses and transfer to other regions.
And fifth, the participants said, the right of nations to self-determination requires that Moscow reduce its efforts to limit the powers of republic governments to deal with the situation on their own territories, as Moscow has been doing since Putin came to power, and to transfer back some of the powers which Moscow has already seized. .
The report notes that Bashkirs in general and the members of this focus group in particular were among the first to come out in support of Russia’s military moves to defend the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians and even to back Moscow’s recognition of the two breakaway republics.
But those actions may not mean what Moscow hoped they meant. Instead, said, such support may reflect “a hope that this could give them the occasion for demanding the broadening of rights and authority of the ‘national’ subjects [in Russia], which have been seriously reduced over the last eight years during the construction of the ‘power vertical.’”
To the extent that is the logic of the Bashkirs – and the extensive quotations from the participants in this focus group makes it clear that is the case for them – then Moscow’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is having a domino effect with the Russian Federation, even if it is not yet as dramatic as many think it will become.

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