Friday, April 3, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Officially ‘Brands’ Kazan as Russia’s ‘Third Capital’

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 3 – Kazan now has the legal right to “brand” itself as the “Third Capital” of Russia, according to the Russian Patent Office, which this week turned back a competing claim by Nizhny Novgorod for that status, thus delighting the Tatars and other Muslim peoples of that country but infuriating many Russian nationalists.
Then-President Vladimir Putin used this expression in 2005 when Kazan marked its millennium, but the Tatars did not start using it regularly until March 2007 when they employed it at arts festivals in France and Germany, a step that prompted the authorities in Nizhniy Novgorod to bring their challenge to the Russian “branding” court of last resort.
In its report about this today, Moscow’s “Kommersant” describes the history of the “real battle” between the capital of Tatarstan and the predominantly ethnic Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, which is now entitled only to call itself only “the Heart of the Volga Region” or variants of that name (
According to officials in Nizhny, Kazan won not because it has a better claim but because officials in the Tatarstan capital filed their request with the Russian Patent Office “several days earlier” than Nizhny Novgorod. And they added that Kazan may not have gained as much as the Tatars think: this registration does not mean the city can use the brand commercially.
But even as the Nizhny Novgorod officials said this – and a few dissent from that interpretation, “Kommersant” reports – the Nizhny government plans to use its “brand” as “the Capital of the Volga” on advertisements for tourist services, especially since that title is a better description of where the city is than “the Third Capital.”
Although the newspaper says that Kazan officials have refrained from comment, in reporting this development said that this decision reflects the fact that Kazan is “one of the largest and oldest cities of Russia with a millennium-long history,” adding that it currently is in “third place” in direct investments (
But if officials and commentators in Kazan and Tatarstan have been restrained in their reactions, Russian nationalists elsewhere have not. One of the angriest appeared on the portal today, and in it, Aleksandr Baranov argued that the decision was completely inappropriate (
Indeed, he suggested, this decision may go down in the history of branding as one of the greatest possible mistakes. “Historically, Kazan was never a capital of Russia,” he pointed out. “It was the capital of the Kazan khanate in the far from the most successful period of the existence of this state.”
More to the point, “Historical Russia has had many ancient capitals,” like Vladimir and Tushino. And during the Civil War after the Bolshevik revolution, “several more ‘capitals’ were formed,” including Omsk, Samara, Rostov, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, each of which claimed at the time be the chief city of Russia.
Indeed, after Ivan the Terrible crushed Kazan, Baranov continued, “that city acquired capital status only after the creation of the USSR and the Tatar ASSR and later the Republic of Tatarstan. But there were a lot of such ‘capitals.’” And looking back, Kazan was only the capital of the khanate between 1438 and 1552, when it was defeated by Muscovy.
Moreover, he wrote, “it is difficult to consider Kazan a more outstanding city in terms of size, industrial and economic potential or cultural life, if one compares it with other million-resident cities” like Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, and Nizhny Novgorod. In fact, Kazan is “not even a capital of a federal district” unlike those cities.
Indeed, Baranov said, the apparent justification for Kazan to have acquired this title is that it is the capital of the titular republic of the Tatars, but most Tatars in the Russian Federation live beyond the borders of Tatarstan. And consequently, the Russian commentator said, it is not their capital in any real sense.
And he concluded that “the single real basis for the status of ‘the third capital’ is an intention to become the center of one of the remnants of the Russian Federation after the disintegration of the latter,” a development that one might have thought, he implied, even the Russian Patent Office would not want to be associated with.

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