A bill on amending the constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan was adopted in the first reading on February 28 by Tatarstan’s parliament, the State Council. After public discussion, the bill will be submitted to parliament for further consideration on March 29. The new version of the constitution has been drafted in response to the demands of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which ruled that a number of articles in the previous version of the constitution did not conform to federal law. During the drafting, 325 amendments to 122 articles were considered (Russian agencies, February 28).
Several articles concerning Tatar state sovereignty, which had annoyed the Kremlin, have been removed from the new version of Tatarstan’s constitution. For example, the section on “The State Structure of the Republic of Tatarstan” has been completely removed. This was the section containing Article 61, describing Tatarstan as a “sovereign state, subject of international law, associated with the Russian Federation on the basis of the Treaty on the mutual delegation of powers and areas of responsibility [signed in 1994 between the Russian Federation and Tatarstan].”
According to the new version of the constitution, the Republic of Tatarstan is a “democratic, law-based, social state, united with the Russian Federation by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Treaty on the mutual delegation of powers and areas of responsibility.” As before, the republic has its own citizenship, but now its citizens are “simultaneously citizens of the Russian Federation.” Various other amendments concern the structure of Tatarstan’s government, procedures for electing republic leaders and removing them from office, and so on. As before, both Russian and Tatar are recognized as state languages (Polit.ru, March 1) but observers differed over how important these changes were. Commentators in the official media emphasized that, while the old constitution defined Tatarstan as a sovereign state associated with the Russian Federation, the new one describes the republic as “united” with the Russian Federation (RTR, February 28). Some rushed to declare that the amendments signaled the end of the “parade of sovereignties” that began in 1990 when Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, invited Russia’s republics and regions to “take as much autonomy as you can swallow” (KMnews.ru, February 28). But even the official media stopped short of claiming that Tatarstan’s future status would be the same as Russia’s other regions, or that Tatarstan’s new constitution fully met the demands of the federal center.
Independent commentators were more skeptical, noting that several of the constitutional articles that had riled the Kremlin remain in the new document: These include articles on sovereignty, dual citizenship and the national language, and on the above-mentioned bilateral treaty–even though the Russian president’s team has explicitly called for the abolition of such treaties (SMI.ru, March 1).
Radical commentators claimed that “the Tatars had tricked Putin” and warned that the Kremlin would take retaliatory measures (Gazeta.ru, March 1). More moderate observers said the new constitution gave Moscow no grounds for complaint because, even though it still contained certain articles that made the Kremlin uncomfortable, Tatarstan had made significant concessions in other areas. For example, it had renounced its claim to appoint its own judges and prosecutors, agreed that the republic’s parliament should consist of professional politicians (at present, half of the seats are held ex officio by the heads of district administrations) and agreed to replace local legislatures with a system of local government (Kommersant, March 1). Supporters of this view assert that the final content of Tatarstan’s constitution will depend on the state of relations between republic President Mintimer Shaimiev and the Kremlin (Vremya Novostei, March 1).
Shaimiev may not, however, be prepared to compromise over the constitution’s main provisions. Addressing Tatarstan’s parliament last week, he declared: “We realize that some people don’t like the fact that Tatarstan’s constitution refers to sovereignty. The Russian constitution, however, recognizes the republics as states. This makes it impossible to deny the notion of sovereignty” (Izvestia, February 28). Shaimiev may now find himself under attack both inside and outside Tatarstan. Some members of Tatarstan’s parliament have already dismissed the new constitution as “pro-Moscow” and accused the federal center of harboring imperial ambitions and of trampling on national rights (RTR, February 28). Demonstrations may also be expected by Tatar nationalists, who retain a certain influence in the republic and tried to picket parliament while the constitutional amendments were being debated (ORT, February 28).
From Tatarstan’s point of view, the greatest threat is likely to be represented by the Kremlin’s stated plans to abolish the entire system of bilateral treaties between the Center and the regions. Tatarstan’s treaty of 1994 was only the first of forty-two such treaties the center signed with Russia’s republics and regions.
LENINGRAD APPOINTS VETERAN LOBBYIST AS ITS SENATOR.