Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 110

Tatarstan’s PresidentMintimer Shaimiev has hit out at Rafgat Altynbaev, mayor of the city ofChalli, who ran on May 27 for speaker of Tatarstan’s parliament against thepresident’s nominee. (See the Monitor, June 2) Although Altynbaev wasdefeated, his temerity has clearly rattled Shaimiev, who has hit back withcharges of nationalism and dirty tricks.

Shaimiev is not used to being crossed on his own territory. As formerCommunist Party boss of the republic, he was elected president in 1991 andreelected unopposed in 1996. Altynbaev’s decision to run for speaker, andthe fact that he was nominated by Fandas Safiullin, leader of Tatarstan’sradical Tatar National Center (TOTs), attracted considerable attention inthe republic media, the Monitor’s correspondent in the Volga region reports.

Shaimiev has kept the controversy alive by telling Tatarstan Television onJune 2 that Altynbaev’s candidacy was a bid to abandon the centrist line therepublic has followed under Shaimiev’s leadership. Shaimiev said Altynbaev’scandidacy represented a “dirty” attempt by radical nationalists to seizepower. As a mayor, Shaimiev claimed, Altynbaev had no right to meddle inpolitics and would have been better occupied improving the lax standard oftax collection in his city. Paradoxically, Shaimiev added that, prior to thesession of parliament at which Altynbaev’s candidacy was put forward, he hadoffered Altynbaev the post of prime minister, which Altynbaev rejected.(Tatarstan Television, June 2) Since the collapse of the USSR, Shaimiev hasperformed a delicate balancing act between extremes of opinion in hisrepublic. He has also taken care not to frame Tatarstan’s fight for autonomyfrom the federal center in nationalist terms or to exacerbate ethnictensions. He has had things much his own way, as Tatarstan’s parliament hasuntil now been a rubber stamp for the president’s policies. Shaimiev’sstatement has therefore created a great stir in Tatarstan’s media, theMonitor’s correspondent reports. Responding to Shaimiev’s attack, Safiullinhas defended the TOTs, rejecting the idea that it is interested in politicalpower and insisting that it is fighting only for the rebirth of Tatarstan’sstatehood, lost in 1552 when Kazan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible butstill mourned by Tatars to this day. (Vechernyaya Kazan, June 5) The TOTscomplains, however, that Shaimiev makes too many concessions to the federalgovernment.

Shaimiev is probably rattled not just by parliament’s unaccustomedself-assertiveness, but also by the fact that Tatarstan is facing sharpeconomic problems. The fall in world oil prices is threatening to underminethe relative economic prosperity the republic has so far enjoyed and whichis one of the foundations of the ethnic harmony in the republic.