Staunton, August 30 – Vladimir Putin’s gutting of Tatarstan’s 1990 sovereignty declaration has cost every resident of that Middle Volga republic not only his or her rights and dignity but also has meant that some 70,000 US dollars earned from the sale of Tatarstan’s natural resources that should have gone to each of them has gone instead to Moscow.
That is just one of the bitter reflections about what Putin has done that is contained in an article on the 24th anniversary of that declaration which occurs today by Rashit Akhmetov, one-time head of Tatarstan’s Popular Front and now editor of Zvezda Povolzhya. [1. “Zvezda Povolzhya,” no. 31 (711), August 28-September 3, 2014, p. 1]
Since Putin began his attacks on the sovereignty of Tatarstan and the other non-Russian republics within the borders of the Russian Federation, Akhmetov says, approximately 10 trillion rubles (270 billion US dollars) has gone to Moscow from the sale of Tatarstan’s natural resources instead of into the hands of the Tatars as the 1990 declaration insisted.
But that financial loss is only a small part of the deprivations Tatars have suffered because of Putin’s policies, Akhmetov points out, and he provides a history of how the declaration came to be and what has happened to its provisions over the last quarter century by considering where Tatarstan has been on its anniversaries.
On August 30, 1990, Tatarstan adoped its Declaration on the State Sovereignty of the Republic of Tatarstan. By this declaration, Kazan changed Tatarstan’s status from an autonomous republic to a union republic and thus gave it the right, under the Soviet constitution, to leave the Union and become an independent country.
Tatarstan had tried to do so four previous times: in the 1920s, in the 1930s, in the 1950s, and in the 1970s, but its fifth attempt in 1990 was the result of a combination of circumstances that meant, the Kazan editor says, that had the August 1991 coup “taken place several weeks later, the history of Tatarstan would have been different:” It would now be an independent state.
According to Akhmetov, “the parade of sovereignties” of which Tatarstan was a part “was organized by the apparatus of the USSR president who used it as a means of pressure on Boris Yeltsin and on the recalcitrant Supreme Soviet of Russia.” Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief operative in this regard was Gumer Usmanov, the former Tatarstan first secretary.
Usmanov was Gorbachev’s chief advisor on nationality policy, Akhmetov continues, and he in turn employed as his assistant Oleg Moronov, a young intellectual, who as “the living embodiment of the idea of Euro-Communism” in Tatarstan and one of those who succeeded in overcoming the opposition of conservatives and installing Mintimir Shaimiyev as Usmanov’s successor in Kazan.
“Thus,” Akhmetov continues, “Mikhail Gorbachev to a large extent opened the way to the real sovereignty of Tatarstan,” an opening that he says the leadership of the republic succeeded in using about “70 percent.” An achievement but one somewhat less than they and many others hoped for.
Many people remember that Boris Yeltsin told the Tatars to “take as much sovereignty as you can swallow,” the Kazan editor says, but in fact, it was Gorbachev not Yeltsin who promoted the sovereignty declarations. And it was Yeltsin who worked step by step once he became president of the Russian Federation to rein them in.
Initially, the anniversary of the adoption of the declaration of state sovereignty was marked in Tatarstan as a significant political event, one in which all leaders and thousands of people turned out and in which military formations and VIPs from other parts of the Russian Federation took part.
But with time, it lost that importance and even was renamed the Day of the Republic as the content of the original declaration was destroyed. Today, Akhmetov says, he has the impression that “the current celebration has been changed into a not entirely comfortable show” and that those invited from elsewhere have been given “unwritten” instructions not to come.
More seriously, he continues, the provisions of the 1990 declaration, even though they were ratified by referendum and enshrined in the Treaty on the Delimitation of Authority between the Republic of Tatarstan and the Russian Federation, are no longer implemented. The republic and its citizens now “do not have any of the rights proclaimed” in it.”
Tatarstan and the Tatars do not own the natural resources under their territory and so they have not enjoyed the earnings from them. Moscow has taken almost all of these and left Kazan with little. The Tatar language has suffered, and Russian is used in 95 percent of the cases of official and educational life.
Indeed, Akhmetov argues, with regard to language, “the Soviet Union was much more democratic than contemporary Russia,” and “despite all the efforts of the Tatar intelligentsia, the Tatar language [even within the borders of the republic] remains a second-class affair.” No one now talks about Tatarstan citizenship.
Given all this, the editor concludes with obvious bitterness, it might be better or at least more honest if the republic’s State Council would just go ahead and denounce the 1990 declaration and rename the territory either “the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan” or go all the way and call it what some in Moscow want: “the Kazan oblast.”