Feb 12, 2007

Tatarstan: Power-Sharing Pact Passes

Russia’s lower house of Parliament voted in favor of granting increased economic and political autonomy to the Republic of Tatarstan.

Below is an article published by The Moscow Times:

The State Duma agreed on the separation of powers between the federal government and Tatarstan on Friday, granting authorities in the region special rights based on its high concentration of mostly Muslim ethnic Tatars.

Deputies voted 306-110 in favor of the agreement, which stipulates that the leader of Tatarstan must speak the Tatar language in addition to Russian and allows regional authorities to issue so-called internal passports with an insert in Tatar.

The agreement also states that the federal government and Tatarstan's Cabinet are to reach a deal giving Tatarstan authorities a say in decisions on economic, environmental, cultural and other issues in the region, Itar-Tass reported.

The concessions are narrower than the measure of autonomy Tatarstan enjoyed before President Vladimir Putin boosted central control over the regions, but the Kremlin-backed agreement has prompted criticism from Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council, which must still approve the deal.

Fears that the oil-rich region on the Volga River could try to secede following the example of mostly Muslim Chechnya, whose 1990s independence drive sparked years of devastating war, have haunted the Kremlin since the Soviet collapse.

"The document will contribute to the strengthening of the country's integrity," Tatarstan lawmaker Marat Galeyev told Itar-Tass.

The agreement would be in effect for 10 years if adopted.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has pushed through laws that limit the region's self-rule and strengthening federal authority. Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiyev, initially opposed a Kremlin-initiated law that scrapped popular elections of regional chiefs and enabled Putin effectively to appoint them instead. He made a turnaround, however, and last year won Putin's blessing for another term in office.

Tatarstan also proposed the new agreement on sharing powers with the federal government last year, lowering its ambitions but still calling for more autonomy than other regions.

Mironov sharply criticized the proposed agreement in December, warning that it could encourage separatist sentiments in other regions.

The 1991 Soviet collapse encouraged pro-independence movements among Tatars, whose warrior ancestors conquered Russia in the early 13th century. Tatar historians and veterans have urged the Kremlin to stop celebrating a 14th-century battle in which a Moscow prince defeated their forebears, calling it an insult to their ethnic pride, and Shaimiyev recently expressed concern about a rise in ethnic bias among ethnic Russians.