Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Enclave's Solution to Ties with Mother Russia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Enclave's Solution to Ties with Mother Russia

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin has arrived and departed in Washington. But another president from the Russian Federation arrived for official meetings this weekend - President Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, the oil-rich Volga Republic that has a population equally divided between ethnic Tatars (a Muslim Turkic language group) and Russians.

For the past five years, Tatarstan has led the drive for greater sovereignty and decentralization of power in the traditionally authoritarian Russian state. The Tatar leadership rejected secession; instead, Tatarstan has successfully negotiated for greater powers within the Russian Federation.

Today political leaders throughout the former Soviet Union are advocating the "Tatarstan model" as a basis for resolving the most critical conflicts: the status of Crimea with Ukraine; Abkhazia within Georgia; and Chechnya within the Russian Federation. Last month the Speaker of the Crimean Parliament submitted a concept paper for regulating relations with Kiev based on the treaty signed in February between Presidents Yeltsin and Shaimiyev.

What is the "Tatarstan model"? While avoiding direct military confrontation with Moscow, Tatarstan leaders have achieved a significant degree of sovereignty short of secession: They have declared the Tatar language to be equal with Russian and adopted their own Constitution. The Tatars have advocated "asymmetrical" federalism, where they exercise special rights not unlike those of Quebec, which has fought for constitutional flexibility to preserve its traditional French-language culture within a sea of English-speaking North Americans. Quebec was conquered by the British in 1759 and has stubbornly maintained its distinct identity ever since. The Tatars were subjugated by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 but managed to keep their culture alive through the imperial Russian and repressive Soviet periods. Modern Tatar nationalists want the full return of their independent "statehood," while Russians assert that Ivan the Terrible merely liberated the Russians from the Tatar-Mongol yoke oppressing them since 1240.

President Shaimiyev has adopted a middle road that is supported by a majority of the Tatars and Russians in Tatarstan. It allows Russia to preserve its territorial integrity while providing Tatarstan significant autonomy in a form reminiscent of the "sovereignty association" of Quebec and Canada.

The Tatarstan leadership engaged Russia in a delicate dance of confrontation and compromise. A compromise was reached only after the Tatarstan delegation refused to sign the Russian Federation Treaty in March 1992, walked out of the Constitutional Assembly in June 1993, and boycotted federal elections in December 1993. At the height of tension, former Speaker of the Russian Parliament Ruslan Khasbulatov threatened to once again sack Kazan and bring "President Shaimiyev to Moscow in a cage," as Russian czars did with rebellious subjects prior to public execution. …

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