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TABLE 2. Russo-Tatarstani differences over foreign policy issues
The top four issues could be identified as the most pronounced and thus fueling much of debate between Moscow and Kazan’:
1. Military conflict in Kosovo in spring 1999 has drawn a line between the federal policy and that one of Tatarstan. In the aftermath of NATO military action the State Council of Tatarstan has issues special statement pledging to defend the rights of ethnic minorities world wide and contribute to halting “aggressive nationalism”. Tatarstani legislators have condemned the ideas of “ethnic linkages” and “confessional solidarity” with the Serbs, as well as attempts to form voluntary military brigades in Russia for direct participation in the Kosovo fights. Those projects were said to divide Russia along ethnic lines and leave the volunteers without adequate legal and social protection1803. In another statement on the Balkans crisis the State Council of Tatarstan called the decision to send Russian peace keeping troops to Kosovo as “senseless”, “immoral”, and “unacceptable”, since it diverts scarce financial resources from domestic needs1804. Later on, president Shaimiev has said that the federal-level politicians should give up the illusion that “Europe would not survive without Russia” backing Russia’s “free hands policy” in Kosovo and Chechnia. “Europe will undoubtedly survive, while this is Russia who is to suffer from the isolation from the civilized world”, Shaimiev argued1805.
In 1997 Tatarstan provoked harsh reaction from Moscow by concluding Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Chechnia. This was the first document signed by Chechen government after the end of the first Chechen war. Moscow has interpreted this treaty as indirect support of Chechnia’s search for full independence, moreover Dzhokhar Dudaev, former president of Chechnia, was willing to have Mentimir Shaimiev as a mediator between the break-away republic and the federal center. When the Supreme Soviet of Tatarstan had passed the law forbidding participation of its residents in Russia’s military campaign in Chechnia, it was again interpreted as another manifestation of defiance to the federal government.
Official Kazan’ is also unhappy with Russian-Belorussian integration. In Russia there were debates whether this would be a compound of two states or Belorussian constituent entities would become the units of the Russian Federation. The second option was perceived as the decrease in the status of Russian regions. Starting from 1997 President Shaimiev has been criticizing Russia-Belarus rapprochement indicating that it might boost asymmetry of Russian federalism. In this situation Tatarstan and some other republics stated that they would insist on having powers similar to that ones of Belarus in the new entity. Experts predict that implementation of Russia-Belarus unification might be used by Tatarstan as a pretext for increasing its own autonomy within the new federation or confederation.
Kazan’ perceives with suspicion CIS integration and treats it as a continuation of century-long “Big Brother” policy. Apart from political reasons, skeptical attitudes to deepening partnership with newly independent states might also be explained by scarce scale of trade and commerce with them: data of 2000 show that CIS countries account for only USD 307,6 mln out of USD 3165,6 mln of overall volume of foreign economic operations1806.
Issues from 5 to 8 were less vocal, but they also contained a good deal of discussions between Moscow and Kazan’. What was of primordial importance is that theoretical discussions gave rise to some practical moves from Tatarstan’s side. In 1995 the President Shaimiev has temporarily introduced the post of Tatarstan’s representative on humanitarian issues in the Republic of Ingushetia to coordinate establishing and maintaining relations with the Tatar communities in the Northern Caucasus, provide the refuges with medical assistance and food supply, assist the families from Tatarstan in search of hostages and prisoners1807. Tatarstan officials tried to mediate between the Russians and the Chechens, proposing the principle of “delayed solution” which was partly implemented in “Khasaviurt agreements” of 1996 and subsequent negotiations with the guerillas. In 1999 the State Council of Tatarstan banned the practice of sending junior conscripts from this republic to the North Caucasus, ordering that the residents of Tatarstan might be recruited as soldiers to be located in the battle areas only on voluntary basis1808. It is known as well that the Tatar delegation joined UN representatives to negotiate with the leaders of Taliban over the release of a captured airliner crew and discussed prospects for Russian policy in the Afghan civil war1809.
The Russian government, however, in fact ignored Tatarstan’s international potential, including for example interesting and unusual attempt to convene international forum to discuss ethno-political conflicts in post-Soviet republics. This idea was implemented in the form of the “Hague Initiative” to bring together leaders from Tatarstan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, as well as a group of eminent international experts in conflict resolution1810.
3. IDENTITY GAPS
The issue of identity has special importance for analyzing Tatarstan’s international involvement since cultural factors, in conjunction with interests and institutions, are power resource for group creation, political mobilization and setting political agenda1811. In Arbakhan Magomedov’s description, regional elites in Tatarstan could be treated not only as policy makers but also as generators and communicators of political ideas. In trying to find the deep meanings of regional political discourses in the marketplace of ideas, one has to refer to cultural and civilizational foundations of regional identity policy1812.
3.1. Identity through the Prism of Globalization
Ethnic and religious identities might provide a focus for people’s affiliation and allegiance, and give them stronger sense of belonging to specific cultural and territorial environment1813. It is widely presumed that culture and identity are varied, flexible and fluid. The case of Tatarstan demonstrates that identities can be reconstructed as social and political opportunities change. Tatarstan quite successfully asserted its cultural specificity and autonomy. In fact, it is one of few Russia’s regions having consistent and coherent vision of its identity, as distinctive from that one of Russia. Construction of Tatarstan’s identity is to a significant extent fueled by the fact that in Tatarstan, in comparison with other republics, the intellectual elite is very strong and influential1814. This are the intellectuals (scholars, journalists, writers) that generate ideas and make them circulate among the top policy makers.
Seemingly, sometimes under the guise of “regional ideologies”, “doctrines” or “models” we found peculiar mix of myths, symbols, slogans and rituals (often irrational), born either as the instrument of region’s self-assertion vis-à-vis the federal center, or as reaction to presumable lose of ethnic or religious distinctiveness in the era of globalization.
In a globalizing world, Tatarstan is concerned about preserving its ethnic identity wrapped in religious colors1815. That is why some seemingly technical issues – like introduction of new Russian passports with no mention of “nationality” of the holder – provoke harsh reactions in this region. The republican State Council ordered not to issue the new passports which did not mention the bearer’s nationality, and were printed only in Russian. Tatarstani elite felt that these omissions robbed Tatarstan of its status as an ethnic republic with two official languages1816. To a certain extent, this reaction shown that ethnic identity for Tatarstan is a sort of “collective therapy for social trauma of Soviet totalitarianism”1817.
The decision to switch from Cyrillic to Latin graphic was one of the most telling examples of Tatarstan’s identity policy in the era of globalization. The idea was articulated in the World Congress of Tatars convened in 1997. In the view of Tatarstani elite, transition to Latin spelling was modeled after the experience of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan1818. The main argument of the proponents of Latin letters is that the usage of Cyrillic is less convenient in global information networks. Latin graphic, as viewed by its defenders, will help Tatarstan to become one of the leaders in information technologies for the whole Turk community of nations1819. Computer program which transforms the Cyrillic text into a Latin one is already created in Kazan’.
Though the transition period was extended to 12 years, forthcoming latinization of Tatar alphabet was interpreted in Moscow as another effort to get out of the Russian cultural sphere and come closer to the Euro-Atlantic civilization. Valery Tishkov, the Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, forecasts that the swing to Latin letters will provoke social and political alienation in the regional society, widen cultural gaps and sharpen the latent societal conflicts1820.