Monday, August 16, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Are Russia’s Non-Russian Republics Now at Risk?

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 16 – Even as most of the heads of Russia’s non-Russian republics are declaring that they are prepared to follow Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s lead and no longer call themselves presidents, a few of these leaders appear to be concerned that this is yet another step toward the elimination of these republics altogether.
Yesterday, Karachayevo-Cherkessia’s Boris Ebzeyev and Mari El’s Leonid Markelov said that they like the leaders of the North Caucasus republics agreed with Kadyrov that there should be only one president in the Russian Federation but said that should not lead to the elimination of the republics such officials, whatever they are to be called.
Ebzeyev said that in his view, “it is still early to speak about the elimination of such subjects,” while acknowledging that “even if the national republics were eliminated, we would not eliminate the ethnic communities” standing behind them and in most cases giving them their names” (
“By decrees,” he continued in remarks at the Mashuk-2010 youth camp, “it is impossible to eliminate ethnic differences.” And consequently, he continued, “the time when it would be possible to say ‘no’ to the republics has not come,” a cautious but clearly intended defense of the current arrangements.
Meanwhile, Markelov was more pointed: “In the course of a lengthy period of time, the people already have become “accustomed” to the existing national republics, and consequently, “it is necessary to preserve them,” given their various sizes, way of life, and specific ethnic features” (
As for “renaming the republics guberniyas [the pre-1917 title for most of the subdivisions of the Russian Empire]” as some have suggested, Markelov pointed out that “these “all the same would be national units.” And he added that, “in [his] view, it is necessary to leave the names of the subjects just as they are.”
At the present time, there are 21 national republics among the 83 subjects of the Russian Federation. They are headed by presidents in Chechnya, Buryatia, Bashkortostan, Mari El, Tatarstan, Udmurtiya, Chuvashia, Sakha, Adygeya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and North Osetia-Alania.
The chief executives in Karelia, Altay, Mordvinia, Komi and Kalmykia are already called “the chief of the republic, and in Tyva and Khakasia, the top officials are the chairman of the government, according to a listing provided in a news story on today (
A major reason behind the concerns expressed by Ebzeyev and Markelov is that Kadyrov’s proposal was so quickly accepted by others, an indication commentator Yaroslav Butakov suggests in “Russky zhurnal” indicates that Moscow almost certainly was behind it or at least helped coordinate the response (
In making his proposal – and both Moscow and the other republic heads have chosen to ignore Kadyrov’s suggestion that he might be call an imam – the Chechen leader said that “it is time to end ‘the parade of regional presidents,’” Butakov notes. But just changing the title won’t end the problem, an indication that more changes are ahead.
Indeed, he says, “it is not difficult to imagine what will begin if [Kadyrov’s] proposal goes forward. Instead of ‘a parade of presidents,’ there will begin ‘a parade of heads’ or ‘a parade of leaders.’” And if the “heads” or “leaders” gain “real sovereignty,” Butakov says, that would be “much more dangerous for the unity of Russian than the present ‘parade.’”
Another Moscow expert, Boris Makarenko, head of the Center of Political Technologies, in a posting today, notes that “any change of name is not a joking matter and asks directly whether the latest proposal regarding the republic leaders raises the question: “Will Russia Remain a Federation?” (
At the present time, he said, the powers that be in the center argue that one of the name changes they are pushing – renaming the militia the police – will transform that institution but that the other – calling republic presidents “heads” – will not represent any fundamental shift. Both of these assertions are problematic.
Calling the militia the police won’t change everything, although it will have an effect, he continues. In like manner, giving new titles to the leaders of the republics will have an effect, although it won’t change everything – however much the discussion over the last few days since Kadyrov made his proposal has ignored that reality.
The timing of Kadyrov’s proposal – shortly after the departure from office of the longtime presidents of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan – strongly suggests, Makarenko says, that it is part and parcel of a more general effort to reduce the power of such regional heads and thus give Moscow more freedom of action.
But even if this measure goes through, Makarenko says, it is going to have serious consequences, albeit not only the ones Moscow wants. On the one hand, Russia’s “ethnic republics” are “not only subjects of the federation but a realization of the form of the self-determination of nations.” Titles thus have symbolic importance to the ethnic communities.
And on the other, those who are pushing the idea of “heads” of republics are doing real damage to the Russian language. How are such people going to be addressed? Clearly, Moscow bureaucrats think that standardization will suppress real politics, but Makarenko says, they may very well be surprised.

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