Staunton, July 10 – In a move that recalls Kazan’s behavior during the 1990s, Farid Mukhametshin, the chairman of Tatarstan’s State Council, has called for the retention of the title of republic president and said that the Russian Duma had violated the Constitution and exceeded its authority by demanding that republics change that title to “head.”
Speaking on July 8, Mukhametshin pointed out that Tatarstan’s treaty “with the federal center was signed by two presidents,” that that agreement became a law, one that the Duma-passed law on calling all heads of federal subjects “heads” directly contradicts.
Noting that “the position of ‘president’ is often used by various companies and clubs,” the Tatar leader said it was not clear to him why it was necessary to “make this attempt at the unification of the titles of the heads of subjects,” especially since the Russian Constitution specifically gives republics the right to make that choice.
Mukhametshin added that his government had received “many appeals” from both the residents of Tatarstan and its “compatriots abroad” to preserve the title “president.”
The initiative to substitute “head” for “president” as the title of the top official in republics came from Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov in 2009. At that time, Kadyrov said that the Russian Federation should have only one president. The Duma adopted his proposal and by 2015, all republics are to bring their laws into line with that.
Up to now, most have, with Bashkortostan having been the latest to do so in February 2014. But Mukhametshin’s statement suggests that Tatarstan not only is not going to do so but will, as so often in the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, will take the lead in promoting its position among other non-Russians.
For some, the issue of titles may seem of little importance, but for the Tatars and other titular nationalities of the republics currently within the borders of the Russian Federation, it is of critical importance as an indicator of their special, self-standing situation and in some cases as an indication of their aspirations to be countries on their own.
But even more important that those underlying causes, Mukhametshin’s statement suggests that he and others in Kazan now have concluded that the situation within the Russian Federation has changed enough that it is not only possible to challenge Moscow on this symbolic point but perhaps go further as well.