All Ethnicities Are Equal in Russia, but Some Want to Be More Equal Than Others

By Valery Dzutsev
The speaker of Tatarstan’s parliament, Farid Mukhametshin, welcomed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s refusal to change the preamble of the Russian constitution to emphasize ethnic Russians as the main ethnicity in the country. Observers, however, pointed out that Tatarstan’s own constitution accentuates the Tatar people as opposed to the “multinational people of Tatarstan” and still holds onto important articles, albeit symbolic, that support Tatarstan’s aspirations for political autonomy from Moscow, such as notions of Tatarstan’s sovereignty and even separate citizenship (http://regnum.ru/news/polit/1520767.html, April 13).
In his 2012 election campaign, Vladimir Putin yielded to the long-held Russian nationalist demand to admit the ethnic Russians’ role as the “state-forming people” of Russia (http://www.ng.ru/politics/2012-01-23/1_national.html, January 23). Putin, however, in the usual Soviet tradition, did not want to designate his declaration into law. Just as in the Soviet times, when the rules of politics were informally obeyed but rarely specified in the laws, contemporary Russian leadership may share the Russian nationalists’ views but tries to avoid specifying them in the legislation.

A new round of the struggles between Moscow and Tatarstan is looming ahead as Russia is bracing for the reintroduction of regional governors’ elections in fall 2012.  Tatarstan’s constitution still contains a few articles that Moscow has been fiercely opposed to, but so far has been unsuccessful in changing. In its preamble, the republican constitution recognizes, for example, the “universally accepted right of all people for self-determination” (http://constitution.garant.ru/region/cons_tatar/chapter/1/#100000). Pro-Russian Tatar experts, in the meantime, warn that centrifugal trends in this republic will grow as Moscow appears to be increasingly impotent in addressing pressing issues such as corruption (apn.ru, April 12). Tatarstan may well again become the champion of greater rights for the Russian regions, a stance that would contribute to Russia’s decentralization and democratization.