Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan Unlikely to Become ‘A Republic like Any Other’

Paul Goble

Key West, February 10 – Last week, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named Rustam Minnikhanov to serve as the successor to longtime Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev, one Moscow analyst hurried to declare that this was a major step toward reducing that Middle Volga republic to the status of “a republic like any other.”
But subsequent analysis and reporting from Kazan suggest that this prediction, however much it reflects the desires of many in the Russian capital, is unlikely to prove true and that Tatarstan, whose titular nationality is the second largest in Russia, will continue to be sui generis both within its borders and for the Federation as a whole.
Indeed, there is even the possibility that the change at the top in the Tatarstan capital will have the effect of opening the way to a new and more expansive Tatar nationalism, given that at least initially, Minnikhanov, who has been republic prime minister, may not be as skilled in parrying Moscow’s demands as Shaimiyev has been.
Immediately after Medvedev announced his selection of Minnikhanov, Yana Amelina, a journalist who has frequently been critical of Tatarstan in the past, celebrated what she called the “end” of the Shaimiyev “epoch” and suggested that the Russian president’s action put Tatarstan “on the path to becoming an ordinary region” (www.apn.ru/publications/article22359.htm).
She insisted that Shaimiyev had been forced out, resigning only when he realized he would not be re-appointed. And she explained that by arguing that the reason the change had occurred was because “the figure of Mintimir Shaimiyev no longer corresponded to the demands” of Moscow with respect to the actions of federation subjects.
“With the arrival of Minnikhanov,” she continued, “the Tatarstan fronde finally will pass from the scene,” with “some Kazan analysts suggesting that this will take place over a few years and others over a couple of decades” and with the process involving the departure of “the generation of the creators of Tatarstan sovereignty in its current form.”
That in turn will drain any remaining content from the treaty between Moscow and Kazan delimiting the authority of the two governments, Amelina argued, because “it is obvious that the reanimation of the former treaty relations with Moscow is impossible – the federal center [now] speaks with Federation subjects from entirely different positions than those of the early 1990s.”
Among the first indications of this shift, Amelina suggested, will be the combination of the apparatus of the republic president and the republic prime minister, an action Shaimiyev had long opposed but one that will be all the easier because the new president had been the republic’s prime minister.
But Amelina concluded that the process was irreversible: Shaimiyev has said he will now work on the preservation of two cultural monuments, something Moscow is prepared to fund as a “parting gift” but one for which, in her view, Shaimiyev and Kazan have had to pay by rejecting the notion of “a special path” for Tatarstan.
Other analysts, however, drew an entirely different set of conclusions. Igor Bunin, a leading Moscow analyst, suggested that Shaimiyev not only had orchestrated everything that had occurred but would remain “the patriarch” whose approval would be required for any future changes (rian.ru/politics/20100204/207610911.html).
And Vyacheslav Glazychev, head of the Social Chamber’s commission on regional development, was even more blunt: “Nothing essential will change; there is not the slightest basis for this.” As long as Shaimiyev lives, he will remain “the informal arbiter” on a large number of issues and retain his “influence” in Kazan and Moscow.
Far more important than this debate about Shaimiyev’s continuing influence in determining the future course of Tatarstan is a new and in many was more insistent nationalist movement among Tatarstan’s young people, whose leader Ruslan Aysin, 29, outlined his goals in an interview posted online today (www.apn.ru/publications/article22374.htm).
His movement, “Uzebez” or “We Ourselves,” is committed to securing legal recognition of Tatar as the second state language of the Russian Federation and in defending the linguistic, cultural and historical-cultural rights of Tatars regardless of where they live in the Russian Federation.
Securing such a status for Tatar, he acknowledges, may seem “utopian but that was just how the election of a black American as US president appeared 15 years ago.” And he said that if Moscow gives Tatars “the chance to develop education, culture, and language” then any loose talk about “Tatarstan’s exit from the Russian Federation” will remain “utopian” as well.

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