Staunton, December 17 – A remarkable thing has occurred this week, one that may have far greater consequences than anyone can anticipate: Tatarstan has taken a hard line about retaining the office of president in that Middle Volga republic, and today Vladimir Putin has caved in to that demand, saying that Tatarstan can decide for itself on the title.
The Kremlin leader clearly has calculated that making this concession will take the wind out of the sails of those in Kazan who have complained about other Moscow laws, including those governing education and language use, and not just for Tatarstan but for all non-Russian republics.
But by so publicly backing down under pressure, Putin beyond doubt will encourage others who object to his policies to take a tough line, thus creating a situation in which he will either have to make more concessions to them to keep the peace or have to employ even more repression to keep people quiet.
In either case, that creates a different kind of center-periphery politics than has been on view in the last few years, one that recalls both the so-called “parade of sovereignties” at the end of the 1980s which tore the USSR apart and the conflicts between Moscow and the non-Russian republics under Boris Yeltsin rather than those under Putin.
Faced with a January 1, 2016 deadline set by Russian law to do away with the title of republic president, Kazan officials have stepped up their campaign to save a position which they argue is symbolic of their status, even though Tatarstan is the only non-Russian republic to retain this title (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/11/tatarstans-struggle-to-retain-office-of.html).
Part of the reason that the Tatars have been so adamant about this is that they see the elimination of this title as a further step toward the denigration of non-Russian rights, and a new Moscow proposal about reducing the amount of instruction in non-Russian languages has convinced them that they are right.
Faced with a Russian education concept paper that argues that all basic subjects in all schools of the country must be taught in Russian lest the non-Russians fall behind, social inequality increase, and the national security of the Russian Federation be threatened, Kazan officials have reacted with outrage.
They argue that these notions are without foundation, and they have appealed to the Russian Federation Council to drop them, lest the 4,000 schools in which instruction is now in non-Russian languages be effectively destroyed (nazaccent.ru/content/18757-deputaty-gossoveta-tatarstana-ispugalis-unichtozheniya-nacionalnogo.html).
As they have done for more than a quarter of a century, the Kazan Tatars seek to speak in the name of all the non-Russians of the Russian Federation, and consequently, the suggestion by some of them that the new educational standards could provoke mass protests like those in the 1990s is not just about Kazan (evening-kazan.ru/articles/vlasti-tatarstana-grozyat-moskve-chto-russkiy-yazyk-do-ploshchadey-dovedet.html).
Given that danger, Putin at his press conference today gave way on the title of republic president. He said that “we with respect will respond to any choice of the people of Tatarstan.” He even backed away from the culture ministry’s demand that the Turkic republics break with TURKSOY (nazaccent.ru/content/18774-putin-pozvolil-tatarstanu-samostoyatelno-reshit-vopros.html).