On June 9, the Republic of Tatarstan began issuing Russian passports to its inhabitants (Russian agencies, June 9). Tatarstan’s latest struggle with the federal center has ended with both sides agreeing to compromise. On balance, however, the issue has been resolved in Tatarstan’s favor.
The conflict has been going on for four years. When, in 1997, the federal authorities decided to replace the old Soviet passports with Russian ones, Tatarstan’s State Council complained that the new model did not indicate the nationality of its holder and was printed entirely in the Russian language. Tatarstan’s parliament put a stop to the distribution of the new passports on the territory of the republic. At first, the republic authorities went on issuing Soviet passports. When those ran out, they ran began to use temporary identification documents (Polit.ru, June 8).
Throughout this period, negotiations continued between Tatarstan and the federal center, but the republic refused to back down. In fact, its position hardened after it received support from other republics, such as neighboring Bashkortostan, which also stopped distributing Russian passports.
Agreement has finally been reached that passports issued in the national republics will include a special title page. In Tatarstan, this page will bear the republic’s coat of arms and the inscription “Respublika Tatarstan.” The holder’s name, date and place of birth, and the agency that issued the document will be indicated in the national language of the issuing republic. Nowhere in the passport will ethnicity or nationality be indicated, but this will continue to be indicated on birth certificates (Vremya i dengi [Kazan], June 7).
Resolution of the passport issue has not, however, solved all the points of contention between Kazan and Moscow. Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, Deputy Prosecutor General for the Volga federal district, said recently that he believed that Article 40 of Tatarstan’s constitution violated federal law. In response, the republic’s constitutional court accused Zvyagintsev of interfering in the internal affairs of the republic (Monitor [Nizhny Novgorod], June 5). Meanwhile, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev has overseen the elaboration of a draft document laying down the principles for center-regional relations. He insists that the division of powers between the federal center and the constituent republics and regions must be strictly demarcated according to the principle of noninterference by the center in the regions’ internal affairs. Shaimiev claims that his draft complies fully with federal law, and has urged President Putin to create, “on the level of the State Council or under the head of the government,” a commission to demarcate the powers of the center and of the regions and republics (Polit.ru, June 4).
As a rule, whenever Shaimiev gets embroiled in a fight with the center, something crops up that enables the Tatar leader to present himself as the voice of moderation and reason standing between Moscow and nationalist extremism. This time, true to form, a group of Tatar scholars and solders has called on Putin to cancel the holiday marking the anniversary of the Battle of Kulikovo. At that battle in 1380 the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitry Donskoi, defeated the Mongols, ancestors of today’s Volga Tatars. Continuing to commemorate this battle, the scholars complain, sets the Russian and Tatar peoples against one other and humiliates all the ethnically non-Russian people who lost their lives in the famous battle (Lenta.ru, June 4).
Suspicion that the scholars’ appeal was more than simply a private initiative is supported by the words of Rafis Izmailovich, head of the press service of Tatarstan’s representative in Moscow. “So far, scholars… have not established where the Battle of Kulikovo took place or even it took place,” Izmailovich declared. “Republics like Russia and Tatarstan must be friends and should not commemorate the day on which one conquered the other” (Vechernyaya Moskva, June 8). Putin has so far not commented. It seems clear however that he will have to react, and that this will likely involve his striking a fresh deal with Shaimiev.