Monday, November 10, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Bashkir Leader Plays Nationalist Card with Demonstration against Moscow

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 10 – In what one Russian analyst describes as the one of the first such actions of its type since the 1990s, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov has organized a nationalist protest in his republic in an effort to block Moscow’s apparent plans to remove him and thus institute tighter central control over his Middle Volga republic.
Just as Soviet commentators did in the late 1980s, Moscow reporting on this weekend’s demonstration sought to dismiss this demonstration as nothing more than political PR by the republic leadership. But in fact, the coming together of the nationalists and of republic elites represents a more serious challenge to the center than either would on its own.
On Saturday, approximately 150 young people picketed the Sibay city offices of Duma deputies Pavel Krasheninnikov and Andrey Nazarov. They carried signs reading: “Federal Officials – Hands Off Bashkortostan!” “This isn’t Chechnya!” and “Murtaza, We are with You!” (
Speakers at the demonstration, which took place without incident in a city some 420 kilometers from the republic capital of Ufa, accused the two United Russia deputies of “ignoring the interests of the republics,” demanded that they be removed from office, and called on Moscow “to stop interfering in the affairs of Bashkortostan.”
In their comments to the Moscow media, spokesman for the two deputies said that this action had been “inspired by the local powers that be” and reflected the tensions between Moscow and Ufa over the future leadership of the republic. (Rakhimov has long been rumored to be on the short list for replacement.)
And these spokesmen added that the participants in the rally were all members of a youth group that they insisted is completely under the control of the republic’s leader as well as officials from local government offices whose positions are in Rakhimov’s gift and therefore do what they are told (
Nazarov for his part added that there was no way that either he or Krasheninnikov could be recalled, and consequently, the Bashkir authorities were going in for this and other forms of “psychological pressure,” pressure that he suggested both pro-Kremlin deputies could safely ignore.
But the coming together of these two forces – nationalism in the population and a willingness to use it in the republic elites – may be something that he and others will regret dismissing, especially if what Aleksei Titkov, an expert at the Moscow Institute of Regional Politics, says is the case.
According to him, such elite-supported national protests were a regular feature of the unstable 1990s. During the Putin years, they had seldom taken place. And this one in Bashkortostan represents the first of its kind in recent times, a possible bellwether for what may happen next.

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