Non-Russian nations of Russia to defend themselves from Putin because their elites won’t

The presidium of the Second Congress of the Bashkir People in Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russian Federation. December 10, 2017. (Image: idelreal.org)  

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In the face of Vladimir Putin’s continuing attacks on the non-Russian republics, including now a call by his supporters to check the Tatarstan Constitution’s legitimacy and the failure of republic elites to fight back, some non-Russians are deciding they have no choice but to do so on their own.

That reflects a new round of radicalization among non-Russian groups and suggests that the coming weeks and months may see clashes not only between them and republic elites they feel are not representing their interests but between these nations and Moscow whose regime they increasingly see as ever more antagonistic to their interests and needs.

The clearest indication of this shift came at the Congress of the Bashkir People on Sunday, at which a series of speakers suggested that “everything has become clear” about Putin and his approach to the non-Russians and also about the inability or unwillingness of republic leaders to combat this.

Republic of Bashkortostan on the map of the Russian Federation (Image: Wikipedia)

Republic of Bashkortostan (red) on the map of the Russian Federation (Image: Wikipedia)

Ruslan Gabbasov, the vice president of the Bashkort National Organization, said that after Putin’s speech in Ufa last summer, “the state languages in the republics began to be subjected to persecution.” He also criticized ideas circulating in Moscow about combining Tatarstan with one or more predominantly ethnic Russian regions.

These ideas, he said, have generated enormous anger among the Bashkirs who fear that if Moscow gets away this in the case of Tatarstan, it will then attack Bashkortostan and all the other non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation. He called on all Bashkir organizations to take an active part in elections to the republic’s State Assembly scheduled for next fall.

That is necessary, Gabbasov said, because “in the current Kurultay sit businessmen who are afraid for their businesses and are occupied only with the lobbying of their own interests. The fate of the republic interests them only after all their other concerns.” As a result, they vote however Moscow tells them to.

“It is time,” the activist said, “to take power into our own hands.”

Ramilya Saitova, a Bashkir activist, said that national organizations must promote the use of Bashkir in all institutions so that all residents of the republic will feel the need to have it studied. Simply trying to impose a requirement on those who don’t see such a need won’t work. It may even backfire.

Edige Akhmetov, an activist from Kazakhstan, said that his republic had done that after achieving independence in 1991; and “now our language confidently occupies all the major portions of our life, and in the foreseeable future, it will completely dominate the situation among Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.”

Garifulla Yapparov, a lawyer, told the congress that one of the first thing Bashkir activists must seek is control over the lands of the republic. Now, the republic government controls only “a little more than one percent,” 100,000 hectares out of 14.3 million. Moscow controls much of the rest.

And Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a Bashkir activist who in the past has been a political prisoner, said that Bashkirs today “must not commit in the future the mistakes which were made during the establishment of sovereignty in the early 1990s.”

People talk about federalism, but in reality, there is no federalism in Russia today.

Under Putin, the defining document of the country is not the Constitution which calls for federalism but rather the criminal code, he continued. “There is no federalism in the country now, but this doesn’t mean that it won’t exist in the future.”

As long as Bashkirs exist, “we have the right to self-determination that is recognized by all,” Dilmukhametov said, and we can promote it effectively if “we take into consideration all the mistakes of our ‘Third Republic’ which were committed over the last 27 years … The main thing [now] is not to allow such mistakes” in the future.

The congress adopted five resolutions:

  • The first denounced the current leadership of the republic for “ignoring all the demands of society” and caving to every demand from Moscow.
  • The second called on the government to seek a delimitation of powers between Moscow and Ufa.
  • The third called for the formation of “a coordinating council” of all non-Russian republics to take up the fight.
  • The fourth demanded that Rustem Khamitov, the head of the republic, agree to set up a monument to the founder of the first Bashkir autonomy Akhmet-Zaki Validi.
  • And the fifth called on all self-conscious Bashkirs to take an active part in upcoming republic elections in order to take back power into their own hands.

But a resolution the Congress did not adopt — because it was not proposed — is likely to prove especially telling. The Bashkir activists consciously chose not to take a position on Putin in the presidential poll, fearful that if they did, they would be subjected to repression from the republic and Moscow, activist Valiakhmet Badretdinov said.

“We are guided in this case,” he continued, “by that saying which was widely used by our ancestors a century ago: ‘We aren’t Reds, we aren’t Whites; we are Bashkirs.” What happens beyond the borders of our republic doesn’t especially concern us. But he added that after Putin’s Yoshkar-Ola speech, “everything became clear” about the current Kremlin leader.

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Edited by: A.N.

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