Friday, March 26, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Tatarstan’s Shaimyev Departs But Not Far or for Long

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 26 – Yesterday, at the inauguration of his successor, Tatarstan’s longtime and now former President Mintimir Shaimiyev attracted far more attention, both in terms of what his role may be now that Rustam Minnikhanov is republic leader and regarding what such a shift means for other non-Russian republics and for the Russian Federation as a whole.
On the one hand, many commentators stressed that the shift from the regional “heavyweight” Shaimiyev, who has pressed for an expansion of federalism and respect for Islam throughout his presidency, to Minnikhanov, who during 12 years as republic prime minister has focused on the economy, may limit Tatar nationalism and tension between Kazan and Moscow.
But on the other, not only is Minnikhanov and the rest of the Kazan elite largely Shaimiyev’s own creation but Shaimiyev is not going anywhere: he will within a month be ensconced as state counselor to his successor, a position that will undoubtedly allow him to play a continuing role for sometime in cadres selection and national policy.
Nonetheless, most commentators have suggested that Tatarstan and the Russian Federation are entering into a period of transition, one that could ultimately lead to a sharp break with the Shaimiyev legacy either as a result of an attack on him by his successor or because more radical Tatar nationalists may come to the fore if his successor proves less clever than he.
Shaimiyev set the stage for yesterday’s ceremonies when he announced that he did not want to serve another term as republic president. That allowed him not only to leave on his own terms but also it now appears to play a major role in selecting his successor and in arranging to stay at the center of power in Kazan.
While Minnikhanov’s inauguration attracted lower-ranking Russian officials than had those of Shaimiyev’s earlier swearing ins and while r fewer representatives from other non-Russian republics and foreign countries attended, Minnikhanov was inaugurated as president and more formally than most incoming heads of federal subjects have been in the last year.
As a result, Shaimiyev, Minnikhanov and a number of other senior people attending gave speeches during the course of the 90-minute ceremony, speeches whose content both individually and collectively say a great deal about where Tatarstan now is and where it may be heading (
In his remarks, Shaimiyev thanked the “governmental approach” and “trusting relationship” of the Russian presidents toward Tatarstan for helping to create a situation in which “attempts at a distorted and one-sided interpretation of the Tatar people at various stages in the formation of the Russian state had been thrown on the trash heap of history.”
But Shaimiyev, who refused to sign the Russian federation treaty, thus making Tatarstan the only holdout besides Chechnya and resisted Moscow’s pressure to bring republic laws into line with Russian legislation, said he felt “ discomfort” because some in Moscow have failed to recognize the need for developing “a deeply thought out and coordinated nationality policy.”
After taking the oath of office in both Russian and Tatar, Minnikhanov devoted most of his speech to praising his predecessor and talking about the republic’s economic problems. But he did devote one key passage of his brief remarks to issues of federalism, a passage some will likely view as presaging change.
“We have been able to move from extremes in politics, by uniting citizens around common values, by understanding the necessary extent of the self-standing nature of the republic and civilized federal relations and the necessity of developing languages and cultures of the peoples of the republics, by observing an inter-ethnic and inter-national balance of interests, and by recognizing democratic norms of observing human rights and freedom of speech.”
Grigory Rapota, plenipotentiary representative of the Russian president to the Volga Federal District, gave a brief speech in which he made use of a Tatar proverb to the effect that “each person should adapt to where he is from” and noted that “federal officials are already learning Tatar.”
Nikolay Merkushkin, head of Mordovia, said that even though Tatarstan at present was not especially distinguished by its democratic qualities, the people of that republic should pray for Shaimiyev “for a thousand years” given the contributions he had made in protecting the Tatars and other peoples.
And Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, praised Shaimiyev, with whom the OIC has worked closely, for “integrating Russia into the Muslim world” and demonstrably kissed the outgoing president in front of the officials assembled in Kazan.
Three commentators in the last 24 years represent the early line on where things are likely to go in the immediate future. In a comment on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal, Mikhail Vinogradov, a St. Petersburg political scientist, said that there was unlikely to be any major change in Tatarstan or between Tatarstan in the near term.
That republic’s elite, he said, “does not intend to change the political traditions” that Shaimiyev helped to create. And the clearest evidence of that is the creation of the special position for him which will allow Shaimiyev to “retain in his own hands the main levers of rule” over Tatarstan (
In a commentary on, Yana Amelina, a journalist who has a long-standing reputation as one of Shaimiyev’s sharpest critics, suggested that change was possible because Minnikhanov is now in a position “to correct certain mistakes of his predecessor” both within Tatarstan and in relations with Moscow (
She cites with approval the suggestion of Irek Murtazin, Shaimiyev’s former secretary who went to jail, according to Amelina, because he put out a false report that Shaimiyev had died and wrote a book calling him “the last president of Tatarstan.” According to Murtazin, Minnikhanov may organize a Khrushchev-style 20th Party Congress to unmask his predecessor.
Among the reasons for that, Amelina says, are Shaimiyev’s mismanagement of the economy and his far more severe persecution of his political opponents like Murtazin than dangerous radical nationalists like Fauzia Bayramova, despite what Amelina calls her outspoken stance concerning Tatars who cooperated with the Germans during World War II.
And finally, Olga Popova, political editor of “Ekspert Volga,” suggested that what is likely to happen will be a Tatar experiment with the kind of “political tandem” on display in Moscow, an arrangement that is likely to promote continuity on most things but that could lead to some unexpected surprises (
She cites State Council speaker Farid Mukhametshin as saying that there will be “in all probability” one innovation: the appearance of a republic vice president who will act for all practical purposes as the prime minister, a position that will now formally lapse. There are a number of candidates, but most have ties to Shaimiyev as much as to Minnikhanov.
As far as the people of Tatarstan are concerned, she said, “they want from the new president mutually exclusive things – the preservation of stability and at the same time the preservation of the clan system which has penetrated all of Tatarstan society.” Shaimiyev was able to manage this, but Minnikhanov may have trouble doing so.

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