A draft law on citizenship is being debated by lawmakers in the Republic of Tatarstan, which is, Chechnya apart, Russia’s most self-assertive republic. The republic’s 1992 constitution described Tatarstan as a "sovereign state" and declared the supremacy of Tatarstan’s laws over those of the Russian Federation. Tatarstan also declared its intention of establishing its own citizenship, though it stressed that its citizens would be allowed to hold dual citizenship. (Sovetskaya Tatariya, December 12, 1992) The Monitor’s correspondent in the region reports that details of an as yet unpublished draft citizenship law have recently appeared in the local press in the form of a critical analysis by Vladimir Belyaev, law professor at Kazan State University. (Vechernyaya Kazan, February 27)
Tatarstan takes its name from the Tatars, Russia’s second largest ethnic group, who make up approximately half the population of the republic, but the draft law makes it clear that Tatarstan citizenship would not be based on ethnicity. Instead, Belayev charges, the concept of Tatarstan citizenship laid out in the draft is a confused hodgepodge. Part residence permit, part affirmation of voting rights, the law also promises certain rights traditionally associated with citizenship of a sovereign state, such as the ability to pass one’s citizenship on to one’s children. Belyaev complains about contradictions in the present draft, one article of which states that only Russian citizens permanently resident in Tatarstan are eligible for citizenship, whereas another article reads that stateless persons will be welcome to apply for citizenship and that citizenship can be acquired by marrying a citizen. As the law stands at present, citizenship could also be retained by a person who leaves the republic to live elsewhere. The draft envisages the introduction of passports of the Republic of Tatarstan — at present, neither Tatarstan nor any other Russian region has its own passport.
Citizenship has become an issue of extreme sensitivity throughout the former Soviet space as the new states that emerged after the collapse of the USSR forge their own identities. Belyaev argues that, if adopted in its present form, Tatarstan’s law would introduce different legal rights and duties for different people and thereby undermine the supremacy of Russia’s federal legal system. In theory at least, Tatarstan’s constitution already does that. The concept of Tatarstan citizenship, complete with republic passports, is likely to give Moscow some sleepless nights.
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